In The Heights

This is a reprint of my remarks about “In the Heights” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented on their main stage Quadracci Powerhouse Theater during the 2018 – 2019 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline on September 30, 2018!

“In the Heights” with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote “Hamilton”. “In the Heights” offers singing, dancing, community, conflict, happiness, romance, turmoil, boy meets girl, girl meets boy, familia, plot twists, loss, redemption, and some sorrow…just like the best dramas…and also the best musicals. And it has singing and dancing! I may have mentioned that.

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

“In the Heights” avoids one of the things that I often find off setting in musicals. The story line leads into the songs in as natural a flow as you could hope for. In other musicals I feel the story is just filler that just can’t wait to get out of the way when the next big song looms. On the other hand, I am not sure anyone of the songs from “Heights” would be a solo chart topper but in the whole in flows incredibly well.

Now there are twelve named characters, plus others in the ensemble. So at first it takes a bit of concentration to get a grasp on who everyone is, but the first act lays it all out for us. We meet all of the characters and start to learn their various relationships and did I mention there is dancing? The central character is Usnavi (Ryan Alvarado) who runs the local bodega. The bodega is the center piece of the set and is the focal point of the neighborhood. So Usnavi knows everyone and everyone knows Usnavi! The spiritual center of the neighborhood though, is Abuela Claudia (Yassmin Alers), whose home is next door to the bodega. Everything flows through or around the bodega or Abuela and we are treated to a dozen songs in the first act…and there is dancing!

One particular thing to pay attention to. Although he seems like a minor character, watch the Piraqua Guy (Henry Gainza). He is always pushing his cart through the action, helping to stitch the community together. It is subtle thing but Mr. Gainza really stands out in the role and it helps build the play.

I was disappointed when the first act ended. I felt it should just keep rolling through to the end…the story, singing, and dancing were that compelling. But the exposition was done and the real lessons of the play were about to start. And there were changes needed for the set for the second act. The mood changes…here the personal conflicts become openly apparent and societal conflicts do as well. And there is a rip in the community that changes it forever and introduces the possibilities for a better future. I won’t divulge those but the second act evolves quickly and forcefully and there is singing and dancing. And what dancing it is. The leads and the ensemble nail it…completely nail it!

Don’t miss this! Really! And that is coming from someone who generally avoids musicals.

And one last mention. There is an orchestra. They are sequestered on the second level of the stage…just behind where some of the second level action takes place. They did an awesome job!!!

Btw: I kinda liked the dancing!

Songs for Nobodies

This is a reprint of my remarks about “Songs for Nobodies” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented in their Stackner Cabaret during the 2018 – 2019 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline on September 15, 2018! My first post about theater…so I was a little nervous.

I have putting off writing about Songs for Nobodies partly because I was afraid that I would give too much away and didn’t want to pepper this post with spoiler alerts. But since the JSOnline review pretty much tells the whole thing…I can say all the cool things that I want to say!

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

I wasn’t sure how this was going to turn out. The lead has to become ten different characters over the period of about 90 minutes. And oh my goodness, but Bethany Thomas is absolutely mesmerizing! Really!!! The songs featured are identified with five female vocalists from the 20th Century who set the bar for their peers and those that followed later in each of their respective genres: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday and Maria Callas. She performed those songs flawlessly…moving easily from one vocal style to the other. Her accents and ability to evoke the styles of each was perfect. After the Piaf portion, I was convinced the Ms. Thomas was a native French speaker. Just a medley of these songs by Ms. Thomas would be worth the price of admission.

But she also presents the ‘Nobodies’ of the title. Five average women, living their lives, working their professions, who were touched in some way by these five celebrities. This presents an entirely new set of personalities and accents and attitudes for Ms. Thomas to slip into beyond the songs. And real stories…with philosophies…and history…and personal desires…and angst. Far beyond the expectations of a cabaret exposition.

I often skip performances at the Stackner…too lazy to fit them in my schedule. But I am certainly glad that I was able to take in this one. It is really ‘a don’t’  miss event of the season. And the Milwaukee Repertory Theater did a great job of casting when they selected Bethany Thomas for this role.

Now, I want to make an additional note. The show rocks because pianist Abdul Hamid rocks. He effortlessly provided the accompaniment for each and every song…didn’t miss a beat…and he made sure we felt the era and feeling behind each song. Too bad there isn’t a tip jar for the piano player!

Last but not least, when you go, make reservations in the Stackner before the show and have dinner there. The new venue and the new menu are a real treat. And the servers go out of their way to please! Do it for your own enjoyment, you won’t be sorry!!