This afternoon I got to see In the Heights for a second time – the closing performance. Just two nights earlier, I’d seen the opening show. Three shows. That was all. But man, what an amazing three shows.
Yes, my kids were in the show. It’s a parent thing, I know. I get it. I’m hardly objective. But objectivity is way overrated, and I attest that this wasn’t any show. It was a tribute to love. It was love personified.
One of the leads lost her father just months ago to ALS. Another actor is a teen mom and her toddler daughter was often at rehearsals. The leading actress is going to be a high school senior next year – a sexy redhead with a huge voice and some great dance steps. She was courted on stage by a skinny blonde kid who just finished seventh grade. And yes, there was a kiss of sorts. The guy playing the paragua man went full out kitsch, shaking his booty and batting his eyes. And today, one of the dancers fell during the blackout scene and twisted her ankle, and then hobbled on for the final encore.
Every show has its moments, its unsung stars, its inside jokes. One of them from this show was the newspaper that a character buys at a vendor. When he flashes it for a second, you can see that it’s the New York Times featuring Hamilton. No mistake there. I imagine Lin Manuel Miranda is a hero to most of these kids. With his Tony’s speech – love. love love. — which they watched together last week, he only holds not only their respect as a wordsmith and a showman, but as a humanitarian for their age. And in a way, he was the heartbeat of this show, even though he wasn’t physically present.
One of the show’s directors said she’d always wanted to put on In the Heights, which won a Tony in 2008, but she felt funny about a bunch of white kids in Iowa playing immigrant Latinos. Then she read an interview with Lin (he’s kind of become a first-name-only type of guy) saying how silly this is – that everyone should do this play because it’s about home and family – and besides, we’re a country of immigrants. And it’s true. In the end, the fact of the so-so Spanish accents didn’t take anything away from what was a tour de force of love.
If you can get a group of 20 teenagers who span from 13 to 18 years old and come from 5 different schools to make something this impressive in under two months, then I don’t really see what the excuse is for not doing something more impressive with our schools. If you start with love – we are here to love each other, to learn from one another, to make something beautiful together – then you can end with love. It may have only had three shows. It may be technically finished. But this production is a testament of what a community can be. I hope each of these kids remembers what this felt like and carries it forward, not with disappointment at the many communities that will ultimately disappoint them, but with a spark for the communities they might help (trans)form.
The show’s final lyrics:
Where the coffee’s non-stop
And I drop this hip-hop
In my mom and pop shop
Where people come
Let me show all of these
People what I know
There’s no place like home!
And let me set the record straight!
I’m steppin’ to Vanessa
I’m gettin’ a second date
Where it’s a hundred in the shade
But with patience and faith
We remain unafraid
You hear that music in the air?
Take the train to the top of the world
And I’m there