This last weekend, Andy and I went with a group to see the musical In the Heights in Chicago. For those not familiar, In the Heights is the musical that Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote before Hamilton. It’s about the stories of ordinary people in the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan, and it won the Tony Award for best musical in 2008. 2016 has become The Year of Miranda for Andy and I, so when we found out it was being performed in Chicago we got tickets ASAP.
It was a very fun performance. We were in a small theater, so everything happened right up close. The singing was gorgeous, the acting was good, the dancing was fluid and energetic and made me want to dance, too. The story is funny and heartfelt. As an added bonus, this was a preview performance, and at one point the rotating set got stuck. The cast ad-libbed through it and made an awkward moment hilarious. When we left the theater a cast member complimented Andy’s shoes. A wonderful time was had by all.
When we got home, we watched some of the Youtube videos of the original Broadway cast, because we wanted to see Miranda’s version of the main character. The characters were all familiar, but they looked different from the cast we had just seen, in that they were on the whole taller and skinnier.
Now there is absolutely nothing wrong with being tall and skinny. The Broadway cast looked fantastic. I'm sure that they put on an unbelievable show.
But one of the things I loved about the Chicago performance was that it was a musical about ordinary people performed by a group who looked a little more ordinary. They were insanely talented--they sang and danced much better than your average group of people. But as a group they weren’t a whole ton taller or skinnier than average. They looked like the beautiful people I know.
I know that musicals are not known for their gritty realism. Worlds in which people burst into song and highly complex dance routines require a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief. If in addition to bursting into song, most of the people of this world are taller and skinnier than average; maybe that’s just part of musical magic.
The magic became a little more magical for me, however, when the inhabitants of the musical theater world looked like people in my neighborhood. Ordinary people have stories that are worth singing and dancing about, and they can even look like ordinary people while they do it. Ordinary, beautiful people.