Tuesday, January 4, 2011

In the Heights of NYC culture

Just in time for the end of its Broadway run, I saw Tony-winning musical In the Heights, last evening. It was fantastic - if you haven't seen it or even if you have corre, don't walk, to catch it before it closes January 9.

What struck me most was how the "NYC-ness" of the show goes beyond merely being set in Washington Heights. Unlike Rent or West Side Story, the show does not hesitate to get very inside baseball with its references to the GWB, the 9 train and ConEdison's ineptitude. Three overarching themes in particular:

  • A textured city. Whether it's lead and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda's urban wordsmithing, the ethnic diversity of cast and characters, the bilingual songs and dialogue, the gritty set or the cacophonous medley of musical genres, the chaos, depth and multiculturalism scream through each minute of the show.
  • You hate it but its home. Main character Usnavi is not enamored with New York. In fact no one in the play is. But it is comfortable, and when you consider leaving you begin to realize what and who you will miss. This has also been my experience over the last 4 years that I've lived here. We all live here because there are jobs and things to do - but we deride the noise, the smell and the crowds. When I leave these are the very things I notice are missing.
  • "If I can make it there…" Things in NYC do not often come easy. With more jobs, come more job applicants and the standard of long workdays. With more cultural experiences, come the crowds, the prices and the burden of choice. And with more neighborhoods come the multi-lingual street signs and maze of train and bus routes. While good things happen in the play and you do leave with a warm and fuzzy feeling - there's something very gratifying about the fact that not every major conflict has been wrapped up neatly in a bow.

Good art is always a cultural signifier and in an increasingly global community it becomes even more important that communities get as specific as possible with their depictions in order to capture the idiosyncrasies of a society that's becoming increasing homogenous.

No comments: