December 7, 2009

On the Horizon: In the Heights

For no good reason at all, Minnesota has a raging inferiority complex. The state is puffed up with pride about the most bizarre things (electing Jesse Venture and Al Franken to office?), and any national or global story that has a local connection becomes front-page news, just so we feel like we're important, too. I'm not a Minnesota native but even I have found myself spouting off boastful trivia to people when I'm out of state, such as the fact that the Twin Cities has a thriving drama culture and more theater seats per capita than any U.S. city outside of New York City. Why your average person would care about such a thing I have no idea, but that doesn't matter, you'll be told this information just so that you know Minnesota should be known for something.

Despite my sarcastic attitude about this state's insecurity, there are times when the boasts are backed up, and when something like the local theater culture really does create some unforgettable experiences ahead of the rest of the country. A few months ago it was announced that the inaugural national tour of the Tony Award winning-musical "In the Heights" would be making an early stop in Minneapolis, and considering how much I love "Rent", it was a no-brainer that I had to see this. The occasion arrived this weekend, and I am pleased to declare that it was shockingly fantastic. I'm no drama geek but I love a good Broadway musical, so take my opinion for it's worth considering your own interest in such things. In any event I was not prepared for a show - written by someone my age - with this much cultural diversity, humor, musicality, dance, and emotion. In a word (or two), it was life-affirming.

Because I love the film adaptation of "Rent", and because "In the Heights" is so vivid, vivacious, and vibrantly alive (think "Rent"+"Grease"+"West Side Story"+2009), during the show I found myself wondering how Lin-Manuel Miranda's vision would translate to the silver screen. Turns out I wasn't the only one: after opening on Broadway in March of 2008, racking up 13 Tony nominations in May of 2008, and winning 4 Tony Awards (including Best Musical) in June of 2008, "In the Heights" was almost immediately picked up by Universal Pictures for a film adaptation due out in 2010. If it does end up being released on time (I can't tell how far along production is), it will automatically be my most anticipated movie of next year.

For perspective, consider that "Chicago", "Dreamgirls", and even the upcoming film adaptation of "Nine" were not translated to film until decades after their Broadway openings. Even "Rent" played on Broadway for nearly a decade before its 2005 film adaptation, and the Tony-winning "Wicked" (film adaptation due in 2011) had at least a few national tours under its belt before also being picked up by Universal Pictures. So what does this mean in the context of adapting "In the Heights" to film? Well as you can imagine, a lot of theater people think it's just too early considering the show has only been playing at Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatre for 18 months (racking up $70 million at the box office in the process).

If you are one of those theater people, let me take you into a Hollywood executive's mind for a moment. Movie musicals have been doing solid business since Chicago won Best Picture nearly a decade ago, and Nine is poised to garner at least a handful of Oscar nominations as well. It is one of the few crossover genres that can please audiences and critics alike, and the return on investment is almost guaranteed to be high considering the low cost of production. Moreover, Fox's "Glee" is a smash hit on television, picking up on a groundswell of teenage excitement for musical theater (do I need to spell out what "HSM" means?). "In the Heights" is a conspicuously contemporary story blending hip-hop and salsa music and featuring eye-popping dancers that very well could (or did) compete on Fox's popular "So You Think You Can Dance" television show. Did I mention the show was written by a charismatic twenty-something who starred as the lead in the original Broadway cast, and that the show has attracted one of the most diverse audiences to ever visit the Great White Way? As you can see, fast-tracking the film adaptation of this makes a whole bunch of business sense.

And if the packed theater audience on Saturday night is any sign of the growing popularity of "In the Heights", it makes a lot of common sense, too. Plenty of people, including me, will definitely stand in line to see In the Heights, especially if they get a chance to see it on stage before the film is released. Minneapolis was one of the first stops on the national tour (am I boasting again?), so most people will have all of 2010 to discover it on its way around the U.S., in addition to the regular stream of Broadway tourists in New York.

I obviously can't recommend highly enough that you see this show if you have the opportunity. Find out when it is coming to your city and don't hesitate when tickets go on sale. Here is a choice clip, with a promotional introduction that hints at its cinematic potential. Forgive the horrendous video quality; I've made it small so it looks a little better, but nothing compares to seeing, hearing, or feeling "In the Heights" live in a theater.


  1. I really enjoyed reading your review of In the Heights. I have 2 tickets to the tour when it comes to Portland, and I'm trying to decide who to take. Does it have a sad ending? Mature themes? I'd like to take my 16 year old daughter who is on the autism spectrum if it will be appropriate for her.

  2. Thanks for visiting, Kim. I'm glad you're interested in checking out this great show. I don't think it would be so popular if it had a sad ending, so rest assured you'll leave in good spirits!

    As far as mature themes go, I'd say it's edgier than Wicked but not quite as bleak as parts of Rent (what with the frank talk about AIDS, drug addiction, etc.). But I guess that means nothing if you haven't seen either of those.

    There is some salty language but nothing that you wouldn't hear in a PG-13 movie these days. There are some moments of romance and flirting and some hinting at sex, but it's far from raunchy. Does your daughter watch "Glee"? I've never seen a minute of it so unfortunately I can't compare, but it seems like teens in general are pretty interested in musical theater these days.

    In any case, In the Heights is really just a great show for people who have never seen a musical or are skeptical about how exciting musicals can be. It's contemporary, inspirational, culturally vibrant, and above all else it's just a tremendous spectacle of music and dance. Hope you enjoy it - I can't wait to see it again, either on a stage or screen.

  3. I really appreciate you taking the time to respond, Daniel. It helps a lot!

    In the Heights does sound like it will make a good film (assuming they don't mess it up). I'm excited to see the stage show.

    Keep writing!

  4. Cheers, Kim - thanks for taking the time to read it! Feel free to come back and share your thoughts after you see the show or the movie (which unfortunately seems to be slow in developing).


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