In the Heights Brings Uptown Story to Life

Weeks before I actually watched Brown’s production of In the Heights, it was all that I had been hearing about—with warnings from my friends to buy a ticket before they sold out, raving reviews of how eye-opening and tear-jerking it was, and all the Facebook posts begging people to sell their tickets for “money, my soul, my eternal gratitude” (one of my personal favorites) after the tickets really did sell out. Then, on Sunday, March 12, the time had finally come for me see it all for myself.

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“Yo, pull out them kiddie pools…” a voice comes on over the radio, as vendors set up shop and people bustle around and go about their usual morning routines. The set is designed realistically and thoroughly from floor to ceiling, completely immersing us in the world of Washington Heights, a largely Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban neighborhood in northern Manhattan full of tall, brick buildings and once-bright, now-faded bodegas and other storefronts. The only break in the illusion is the small gap in the back where the musicians are visible; but that’s hardly noticeable as the bright lights flash, vibrant skirts twirl, and the energy of the cast washes over the mesmerized audience. The tone shifts when Nina Rosario (Viva Sandoval ’20) comes home from her first year at Stanford with a secret.

Lin-Manuel Miranda, the actor, composer, and playwright best known for the fame of Hamilton, wrote the first draft of this show in his sophomore year of college, grew up in Washington Heights where the musical is set. Miranda says that, “We’re a stew up there, and we wanted to reflect that.” He wanted to depict the multitude of diversity and culture of Washington Heights and represent “Latinos, not wielding knives, but . . . being in love and having businesses and families.” In the Heights is a musical portrait of the people Miranda grew up with and the place he called home.

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The cast members fully stepped into the characters created for them by Miranda in the script and Brown alum Quiara Alegría Hudes in the book. Watching their faces and body language fully transform with each action and emotion that affects their characters, it as easy to forget they were acting. Piragüero (Rishi Wagle ’20), the Piragua Guy, has little stage time and brief lines spread sporadically throughout the musical. But he is more than just a goofy guy to serve as comic relief during transitions.When he sings about “scraping by,” not only in reference to his job as a piragua vendor who scrapes his ice block to sell snow cones to customers in the hot summer sun, but also in reference to the lessons of survival and perseverance that are taught through the stories and lives of the people on this street corner in Washington Heights. And Wagle executes both roles and reveals both meanings of his part so well through the deadly combination of his accessibly goofy attitude and shockingly powerful voice.

This show not only celebrates People of Color but also recognizes the racial tensions and divisions that are all too real within People of Color as well. It is mentioned several times throughout the show that the character of Benny (Stephen A. Bozier ‘17), who is Black and does not speak Spanish, “know[s] nothing of our culture,” and will never be good enough for Nina. Finally, he is driven to ask, “Why learn the language if they still won’t hear you?”

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The biggest and most memorable parts of the musical were when the entire cast performed together, limbs swinging in unison and voices weaving in and out of harmonies. The kinetic energy between the cast members made the ensemble pieces crescendo, not only in volume but also in sheer excitement and life. At the same time, each cast member was also certainly strong enough to hold their own part in the midst of the overlapping, chaotic, beautifully messy scenes. Aristotle really got it right when he said, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Actors sniffled and wiped their eyes on stage during the final scene and throughout the bows. As we filed out of the auditorium, I saw a man and a young boy a row behind me get up and sing “Piragua, piragua” to the tune of the song. And I knew that the cast, crew, and audience would be humming along to the songs and remembering the lessons of In the Heights for weeks to come.

 

NOTE: If you want to read more about this remarkable musical, here was the press release for Brown’s production of it. https://www.brown.edu/academics/theatre-arts-performance-studies/news/2017-02/press-release-heights.

 

 


The Nelson Safari

Welcome to the jungle. As we begin our tour, I will be pointing out just 10 of the many weird, exciting, and beautiful things that make a safari tour of the Nelson everything that it is.

  1. That random person who is working out in jeans and a button-down shirt.

That cannot be comfortable. Aren’t you sweaty? Don’t you feel constricted? But, hey, mad props to you for pulling it off.

  1. That person taking up the last available treadmill with a good view of the TV screen while walking at 2.0 mph and texting on their phone.

Ah, the wonders of modern technology.

  1. That one guy who blew his nose with alcohol wipes that one time.

At least he had some very clean nostrils.

  1. That person who has been in the same yoga pose for so long that you’re worried they’ve fallen asleep.

Should I do a casual walk-by to double check? Ah, but the water fountains are the other way, and I don’t really like the machines over there. Should I tap their shoulder? Are they alive??

  1. Those swole people who seem to spend so long flexing and staring at their massive muscles that you don’t know how they got swole in the first place.

I know you’re jacked, but how did you get that way when your workout-to-break ratio is 1:20? Please share your secrets. Sincerely, The Noodle-Armed Folk.

Tv GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

  1. That one person who was listening to earbuds that were connected to…an iPad.

How did they manage to fit that into their pockets, you ask? They didn’t. They stuck it in the back of the elastic waistband of their sweatpants, and I was waiting for it to fall any second for that entire visit to the gym.

  1. That one person who was listening to earbuds that were connected to…nothing.

Me: “Hey! Aren’t we in the same English class?”

Them: *silence*

Me: “Uhhh, the other end of your earbuds are dangling out of your pocket…”

Them: *starts bobbing head along with imaginary song*

  1. Those people who aggressively row on the ergs, but clearly don’t know what they are doing.

To be honest, I also don’t know what I am doing. I’m told that it’s actually all about the legs, but everything seems to hurt for me.

  1.  All the fit people who totally know what they’re doingTumblr GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
  2.  All the other newbies who clearly don’t.
    Gym GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

I relate on a spiritual level.

Now that we have completed our tour, I hope you realize what an amazing and wonderful place the Nelson Safari is. Every visit is an adventure, and we hope that you’ll come again soon!

 


Why Moonlight Deserved its Oscar

 

Many are calling last Sunday’s Oscars the craziest ever, the antics building up to the unprecedented mistake announcement that La La Land won best picture when, in reality, it was Moonlight. Jimmy Kimmel was a hilarious and timely host who added never before seen segments like a tour bus of random people coming to the venue under the assumption they were going to a museum, and candy being parachuted down into the auditorium. The jokes at Matt Damon’s expense were a welcome addition to the ceremony, but anyone who watches Jimmy Kimmel Live knew that was going to happen. The Oscars typically aren’t the most entertaining show, but Jimmy Kimmel delivered a clever performance. 

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: 'La La Land' producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the winner card reading actual Best Picture winner 'Moonlight' with actor Warren Beatty onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – FEBRUARY 26: La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz holds up the winner card reading actual Best Picture winner ‘Moonlight’ with actor Warren Beatty onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Even though La La Land was projected by many to win, Moonlight is a superior film. It tackles real issues with grace, has a rich, complex story, and boasts tremendous performances.  Moonlight tells the story of Chiron, a young, impoverished black man who is unsure how to cope with sexual orientation and is victimized by the abuse of his drug-addicted mother. With an all Black cast, its storyline highlights a specific group of people, but still most can relate to the struggles of the protagonist. Anyone who has ever felt isolated, abused, or been close to drug or alcohol addiction can empathize with the story and its complex characters.

La La Land was a movie made to please the Academy: it was about two struggling performers, made by a once nominated director, took place in Los Angeles, had an A list cast, high budget cinematography, and, finally, it was a musical. It follows the love story of a down on her luck actress and her lover, a Jazz pianist. It attempts to defy expectations with its ending by attempting to flip the genre on its head, but in doing so falls into the same classic trap of Hollywood love stories — that love prevails. It’s common for movies about the entertainment industry to perform especially well at the Academy Awards — think The Artist, Birdman, and Argo.  

La La Land is fairly straight forward, while Moonlight delivers with its subtlety. It never panders to its audience and, as I said in my earlier review, “every scene is essential.” Moonlight deserved its win.


Intermittent Signals

Elizabeth pulled her hat lower on her head to cover her ears and pressed her gloved hands against her cheeks, but she was no match for the snowstorm outside–her teeth wouldn’t stop chattering and she knew without looking that her face was a much brighter shade of red than usual. Walking as quickly as she could against the wind without slipping on the thin layer of ice covering the streets, she breathed a sigh of relief as the door of her dorm building became visible.

Her backpack hit the floor as soon as she reached her room and her shoes, scarf, and hat were quick to foll0w. She collapsed into bed in a matter of seconds, and curled up in a thick, patterned blanket as she slowly regained warmth in her fingers and toes. It was nice to lay there in silence–her roommate was gone for the weekend visiting family, and she had forgotten how comforting it was to hear only the sound of her own breath in the room after a long day.

She was only able to enjoy the calmness of her surroundings for a moment– her thoughts remained chaotic and noisy. Now the light, pounding sensation in her head that had gone barely noticed all day was fully felt. The heaviness of her eyelids became more apparent. And it only took one attempt to finger through her hair to discover that it was a tangled, disheveled mess. She hadn’t felt this tired in weeks.

After remaining motionless for a few moments, Elizabeth pulled her phone out of the pocket of her jeans and glanced at the screen only to see the two missed calls from her mom that had remained unreturned all week. She knew she should have called her back ages ago–but her own life on campus had been so chaotic and tumultuous that she simply didn’t have time to deal with whatever storm was brewing at home.

It was selfish of her, even presumptuous; Elizabeth had no concrete proof that she wasn’t being told about something. But even without paying close attention, it was clear to her that something was amiss at home. Her mom’s voice on the phone sounded perpetually preoccupied, and she called frequently even though she usually had nothing to say. Her dad–who never calls to get anything but a quick update on how her classes are–had left her a voicemail asking if her mom had mentioned anything important recently. Her home was thousands of miles away, but she felt whatever tension that was looming there as physically present.

She knew she would have to face it sooner or later, but for now it was easier to be selfish–to avoid calls that lasted longer than a couple of minutes until she felt ready to deal with what was to come. Her solution was temporary, but it would have to do for now.


Unsung Heroes of Representation: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

In honor of the weekend, and in memory of all the hours spent watching TV last weekend, I’ve decided that the time is ripe to begin a new segment: Unsung Heroes of Representation.

What an icon, honestly.

You might ask: Oh golly, who are these Unsung Heroes? Well, hold onto your seats, because they are a blast. Unsung Heroes of Representation has been devised to draw attention to TV shows and other media that represent marginalized identities in positive, realistic ways. Personally, I’m very tired of watching programs that rely upon stereotypes to characterize the few (if any) female, PoC, and/or queer characters – and I’m sure many of you agree.

 

Thank you, Amy.

Thank you, Amy.

That being said, what better way to kick this off than with the show I recently (shoutout to the long weekend) got all of my friends to start watching: Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Tell me that isn't a lit opening.

Tell me that isn’t a lit opening.

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Durk’s on Thayer

The addition of BBQ to College Hill’s menu is the latest change to hit Thayer over winter break. Durk’s Bar-B-Q is now located at 275 Thayer, where Shark Sushi Bar used to be. Since I love food, I was eager to try out the new kid on the block.

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Instead of a big shark on Thayer, now there are two big pigs.

 

I went here on Friday night for dinner with my friend. I immediately noticed Durk’s casual feel thanks to the set-up and comfort food.  It’s a great place to bring someone on a first date or when your parents are in town due to the fancier ambiance, craft cocktails, and price. A hostess seats you and gives you a menu and pencil to fill out your order card. After you fill it out, you bring it to the open-front-kitchen and wait for them to prepare your table’s food. The server only deals with your drink order and the bill. A lot of customers seemed to be confused about this process and the tipping procedure.

Now, you know how to go about ordering at Durk’s and now I can tell you to not be a shitty person, so tip 20%.

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I ordered the brisket sandwich with coleslaw and cornbread. The sandwich was very good – the bun is fresh and the brisket melts in your mouth, though I wish the portion of brisket was more generous, considering it’s BBQ. Pro tip: Top it with Durk’s sauce to get some heat and sweetness in every bite. The coleslaw was well-seasoned and very sweet, and it complemented the sandwich well. The cornbread was delicious (I mean, who doesn’t love cornbread?). It wasn’t in a loaf, or a slice, or in a muffin form.  Rather, it was in the shape of a mini tart, so every bite included the crust, which was warm and topped with a dime of honey butter. Unfortunately, you only get a small piece for $3 and I could have eaten about ten of them.  My friend ate her food so quickly that I couldn’t try a bite of her ribs or mac and cheese.

 

We could have eaten so much more

 

I wish I were old enough to enjoy some of their craft cocktails. I know my dad would love the place just for having a Wisconsin Brandy Old Fashioned on the menu. Next time my parents are in town, I’m sure they will want to check it out.

I recommend that you try Durk’s take-out. I think that the process of ordering, price, and portions would make for a great dinner that’s a little nicer than normal (think something between Nice Slice and Andreas). Stopping by Durk’s just for cornbread may be my new thing.