A fiesta for "In the Heights" at the United Palace
Whew. A week after "In the Heights: The Concert" rewrote the relationship between the arts, the United Palace, and Northern Manhattan everyone is still catching their breath.
The concert redefined who we are. From the actors, musicians and crew caught up in the cultural whirlwind that "In the Heights" unleashed to the local arts community that has continued to make its mark up here at the "Top of the world," to the audience, half of them area residents, the other half Broadway lovers, astonished by the spectacle of entering the majestic Palace for the first time: simultaneously we all recognized that a seismic shift was occurring about where great art happens in this town. The shock waves emanating from the corner of Broadway and W. 175th Street will reverberate through the metropolitan region for some time.
Anyone within the confines of the United Palace when Lin-Manuel Miranda donned his signature hat and, rapping "Lights up on Washington Heights," slipped into his Usnavi persona felt the power crackling through the crowd – ever so close to filling every one of the theatre's 3,400 seats – and strapped in for a joyful Beatles-at-Shea-Stadium type ride. Tears were shed onstage and off.
Many denizens deeply embedded in the cult of "In the Heights" said it was the most electric performance they had witnessed. They screamed with gusto, offering a roar from the cheap seats in the balcony then went mute, with respectful pin-drop silence, during the quietest passages. The building was peopled by hundreds of local residents seeing it for the first time, taking advantage of the discounted tickets provided through the Manhattan Times and Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA). For some it was also their first ever theatrical performance, so much more poignant because it was about them and their neighborhood.
When the Heights does Broadway love overwhelms decorum. A woman in the expensive seats shouts "I love you" to Lin. He fires back, "I love you more and I loved you first."
The audience seemed like a long-lost cast member. Hundreds of attendees sang every word, beat Usnavi to his punch lines, danced in their seats. It had a visceral effect on the actors. When Karen Olivomomentarily forgot the lyrics to "It Won't Be Long Now" she appealed to the audience to remind her of the words. They loved her even more for it.
Part of the electricity was from the show's feel of a family reunion. Many of the original Broadway cast members hadn't seen each other in years. The actors and crew members from the national touring shows were also reunited, swapping "Remember that night in . . ." stories.
The band, the band, the band. It was a live concert with live musicians. So much ink and so many megabytes have been spent on the cast. But the band was firecracker sharp, laying down a muscular, fluid, flexible sound. Elevated on risers at the back of the stage, instead of stuffed under the floorboards where they typically reside, the band played a vital role in the visuals. During some musical passages cast members committed the cardinal sin of turning their backs to the audience to exhort the musicians to greater heights.
Despite the night's historic triumph, there were also moments when we struggled with our success. The line for will call tickets, as well as over 150 walk up sales, was so long that we had to delay the start time to get everyone inside and seated. When show time came and went with hundreds of people still waiting in line Lin-Manuel ran a lap around the block, reassuring his fans that the concert would wait for them. We are continuing to grow into our role of providing world-class events in our theatre.
The one-night only performance was also a benefit for organizations that help connect local residents to the arts, including UPCA, NoMAA, and the Broadway League's Family First Nights. Although the receipts are still being tallied, close to $150K was raised through ticket sales and sponsorships. That will allow all of us to continue our missions of serving the growing population of art lovers uptown.
But most of what I have to say about the show has already been said. With that I'll turn it over to the professionals.
"The words 'I'm home' never resonated so strongly, and, yet again, hopes and dreams seemed palpable in upper Manhattan."
"Leaving the theater, we overheard one teenage boy saying exclaiming in awe, 'He said 'Bennett Park!'' [a lyric from the finale identifying a neighborhood landmark.] Moments like this were why it was important, and completely awesome, to bring Heights to the Heights."
The Uptown Collective
"It was pure magic. The audience and the performers sang together, laughed together and even cried together. This was family."
"Take the A train from Times Square, the heart of Broadway, and it's a quick ride to the Heights, the veritable "top of the world." But it took five years for In the Heights to actually reach the Heights, and when it did, it nearly blew the roof off the United Palace Theater."
Five best performances from "In the Heights: The Concert" at the United Palace.