Just how true to life is the new Broadway sensation In the Heights?
"The singing, the dancing, the scenery--it was like you were actually there," raves Cinelli Mangal, a 10th-grader at DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, who recently saw the show in a large group of teens participating in TDF's Stage Doors program.
"It made me feel like I was back home in the Bronx," says Majed Kamal, also a 10th-grader at DeWitt Clinton. "It made me look at my home in a different light. It made me feel safer, more positive about my neighborhood."
That's a lot for a Broadway musical to do, but then In the Heights, the brainchild of Inwood native Lin-Manuel Miranda, is not your typical song-and-dance show. It tells the intertwining stories of Washington Heights denizens of various backgrounds in a corresponding variety of musical styles, with an emphasis on hip-hop, pop and salsa sounds not typically heard on the Great White Way.
"They said there was going to be rapping in the show, but I didn't expect it to be great," Cinelli admits. "I was very impressed. Usnavi's rapping was great--you could really understand it, and it told the whole story."
Usnavi, played by Miranda, is the main character, a bemused young bodega owner who observes and comments on the lively life of his neighborhood.
"You know how today in rap they use too much negative language?" Majed asks rhetorically. "In this show, the rapping was used to tell us something about ourselves."
"I want to see it again with my family," says Jody Gopaul, a 10th-grader at DeWitt Clinton. That might constitute a large ticket order, as Jody puts it: "The play showed how the whole community is really your family. I could relate to that a lot."
Cinelli was even more unequivocal in her praise.
"It's the best play I've ever seen," she raves. "It's very modern, and a lot of the students could relate to it. And I liked the whole theme of home--about how if the characters go back to where they came from, they won't be a family anymore. They have to stay in the Heights to be a family."
The matinee performance got some lively responses, indeed. When a character referred to dropping out of college, one young theatregoer was overheard name-checking Kanye West, who released a hit album called The College Dropout in 2004. And any time a character made a joke--particularly a salty one--the young audience went crazy.
In the Heights has been called a musical for a new generation. The recent Stage Doors matinee proved that conclusively.