Monday, October 09, 2017

In The Heights Two Times

Olney Theater and Roundhouse Theater did a joint production of "In the Heights" and I went to see it.  Yes, I had seen it in April at Gala Theater when they did the Spanish version.  And since I apparently didn't write about that let's talk about both. Gala Theater's version was in Spanish, which is to say for the most part they flipped the Spanish and English in the play and had subtitles on stage.  Olney/Roundhouse did the traditional English, with a lot of Spanish mixed in. 
Gala's theater is smaller and let to a very intimate feel.  For "Alabanza" they had actors carrying candles down the aisles which led to a feeling of intimacy. The Olney Theater is larger, and they had piped in city noises - sirens and subways - something a theater in Columbia Heights did not need to do.  Also, it's not part of the performance, but I went to Gala on a rainy Friday and everyone seemed happy and in the mood to party.  While I went to Olney on a Wednesday, and the audience response was interested, but comparatively more sedate. 
In both cases the casts were great.  In both cases, a number of the actors were making their debut at that theater, but had performed in "In the Heights" before. Olney's cast had Rayanne Gonzalez playing Abuela Claudia, and I have now seen her in three local productions ("Destiny of Desire", "Oliver!") and she's been great in each.  
"In The Heights" takes place over three days in July in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City and while covering lottery wins, and romantic drama, also manages to touch on themes of immigration, gentrification, and defining success. It was a Tony award winner for music and lyrics writer Lin-Manuel Miranda among others. 
I had listened to the cast album for years, but had not managed to catch a live version until this year, so I hadn't known, until I saw a video on Twitter about the use of cell phones in the "Blackout" number.  I confess, along with a birthday month present to myself, part of my excuse for seeing it again was to see what the Olney production would do for "Blackout".  The Gala production has used flashlights, which is certainly a choice.  (I had also chatted via Facebook with someone who went to the Annapolis version, who said they used low stage lights.) Olney did use cell phones.  Very modern looking cell phones.  
The play, like many is very recent (about 10 years old, which compared to say Dickens is just a spring chicken of a play) and yet, it's already a bit dated.  The neighborhood in question is already gentrified.  Rosario's Car Service would be fighting off competition from ride sharing services.  Going to visit the Dominican Republic is fraught with additional tension these days.  Although I confess the Trump joke is actually funnier now.  
Also, after the production, the cast announced they are fundraising disaster relief for hurricane and earthquake affected folks. They were at 40,000 something.  They are hoping to get to 96,000. 
A transportation note for local folks.  There is a bus that gets you to the Olney theater, but it stops running around sixish, so you will need an alternate plan for your return trip, or to carpool out there.