Friday, February 26, 2010

The Pompadour Will Rise Again

Conan O’Brien now has a Twitter account. And as stupid and trivial as Twitter can be most of the time (OK, all of the time), since he’s not allowed to appear on TV until September, this could be a great temporary creative outlet for him. Not to mention a great way to reach out to the thousands of devoted fans who lobbied for him to keep his gig on “The Tonight Show.”

Even if you don’t watch late night TV, there was no avoiding the war that was waging just a few weeks ago, and nearly everyone except David Letterman came out of it a loser: NBC looked like a bunch of clueless morons, O’Brien lost his dream job, and Jay Leno did some serious damage to his “nice guy” image. But despite the whole mess, Leno is reclaiming hosting duties of “The Tonight Show” once the Olympics are over, and the outcome is anyone’s guess. Plenty of people are hoping for a colossal crash and burn, but there are plenty of Leno fans out there who found O’Brien’s brand of humor too irreverent and bizarre (which it is, and that’s why it’s awesome).

Leno can have “The Tonight Show” back for all I care; it was too stifling an environment for O’Brien and I’ve already removed it from my DVR schedule. And I hope O’Brien is enjoying his time off and using it to get his creative juices flowing. I have no doubt that he will be back in the fall with something that would have been deemed too “crazy” for “The Tonight Show.” Until then, I look forward to all the banal things he cares to share on Twitter. And fantasizing about that glorious hair.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Trailer Review: Stolen

Release Date: On IFC On Demand March 3, in select theaters March 12

Website: Official Stolen website

Starring: Jon Hamm, Josh Lucas, James Van Der Beek

My Review: Jon Hamm can do drama. Jon Hamm can do comedy. Jon Hamm can do sexy as hell with one hand tied behind his back. But can Jon Hamm do mystery/thriller?

In Stolen, Hamm is Tom, a father whose son has been missing for eight years. In his quest to find his boy, he discovers the buried remains of another boy who died—presumably murdered—around 50 years ago. Out of what either starts as curiosity or a need for a distraction, Tom becomes increasingly obsessed with solving the mystery of the newly discovered, but long dead, boy.

Stolen flashes back and forth in time, allowing glimpses of what happened to the boy 50 years ago, where Josh Lucas plays his father. James Van Der Beek is also there, for one reason or another. But really, who cares? Will Jon Hamm forego the search for his own son in favor of solving a decades-old mystery? And most importantly, will he still look sexy while doing so?!

Would I Pay For It?: Whether I would pay to see Stolen or not is kind of a moot point, since it’s unlikely to be playing in a theater nearby. But I’ll probably rent it eventually, just to see what Hamm brings to the table.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Drink Me: The Proverbial ‘Alice in Wonderland’ Kool-Aid

Did you know that a new Tim Burton-directed, Disney-produced version of Alice in Wonderland (in 3D!) is coming to theaters on March 5? If you answered “no,” can I come stay at the rock you live under the next time I need a mental health weekend? It sounds like a very peaceful place.

The promotions for Alice started months ago, but now that we’re in the home stretch, its marketing strategy has gone off the rails. Every television commercial break includes an ad for the movie, billboards and posters are everywhere, and every other day there’s a new video promoting it available online. Trailer! International trailer! Meet the Mad Hatter! Look at the new Wonderland! Music video by Avril Lavigne! Johnny Depp professes love for Tim Burton! Tim Burton professes love for Johnny Depp! Everybody loves Raymond!!! We are all indeed a little mad around here.

Perhaps even curiouser, there are Alice movie tie-ins available from some unusual sources. Shopping mall retailer Hot Topic is offering a line of Alice products catering to the goth crowd, from t-shirts to tote bags to costume jewelry. Nail polish brand O.P.I. has put out a new collection of colors inspired by the movie. Even high-end cosmetics retailer Sephora is getting in on the action by selling Urban Decay’s Alice in Wonderland eye shadow palette (which was so popular, it’s already sold out).

But what do these brands have to do with marketing a family-friendly fantasy film based on a beloved story? And is this sort of gonzo marketing even necessary for this movie? Alice already has a devoted fan base in those who love Lewis Carroll’s books, fans of Disney’s 1951 animated feature, and devotees from various other sources, like other movie versions and the darkly sinister Alice video game by American McGee. And that’s not even including the rabid fan bases for both Tim Burton and Disney. I know all I had to hear was, “a new version of Alice in Wonderland is being directed by Tim Burton,” and I knew I would be going to see it long before the first teaser trailer or promotional images were released.

The fact that Disney is promoting this movie so hard makes me a bit worried about how good it will be. Generally, if a movie is worthwhile, it can stand on its own merits and succeed primarily through word-of-mouth and repeat customers. If the studio finds it necessary to throw so much money and creative merchandising behind a movie that is already buzz-worthy, are we all in for a rude surprise on March 5? Better check to see if the Alice Kool-Aid is marked ‘poison’ before taking a drink.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Trailer Review: My Own Love Song

Release Date: September 24, 2010

Website: IMDB page

Starring: Renée Zellweger, Forest Whitaker, Madeline Zima, Nick Nolte

My Review: Remember when watching The Last King of Scotland and Bridget Jones’s Diary how you thought to yourself, “Golly, when are Forest Whitaker and Renée Zellweger going to get together for a movie”? Well, that wishful thinking has finally become a reality as these two crazy kids are starring together in the drama, My Own Love Song.

The extended international trailer gives almost five whole minutes of footage, but that’s still not enough for me to piece together what exactly is happening in this movie. They’re in the south, and Zellweger is a survivor of a car accident that killed her husband and left her paralyzed from the waist-down. Whitaker is apparently her friend, as he helps her get around in her wheelchair, but they seem to bicker a lot.

Then they head out on the road and Whitaker confronts her with a letter he found from her 10-year-old son who she abandoned, asking her to come see him. While on the road, they pick up a young woman who is searching for her husband. And Zellweger is apparently a country singer of some sort. And Whitaker might be a fugitive. And how this all fits together in one cohesive story is anyone’s guess.

Would I Pay For It?: No. It’s doubtful that I’ll even rent it. But I might rewatch The Last King of Scotland and Bridget Jones’s Diary one day. So, you know, there's that at least...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Yup, 'Hair' Still Rocks

As I said in one of my rare rave reviews last May, I absolutely love Hair. So much so, that I went back to see it a second time, which is rare given the cost of Broadway theater tickets (with previous honorees being Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera). The majority of the original cast is still there, and still keeping the energy level to insane heights. They're only there until the end of March, when they'll be replaced by new stars as they depart to open the Hair revival in London. I hope London knows how lucky she is.

I was also lucky enough to win a contest via Twitter a few weeks ago that awarded me with a free copy of the Hair soundtrack on vinyl. So I brought it with me to my second viewing and the cast was kind enough to sign my album. Now if I only had a record player...

Oh, and Will Swenson (who stars as the incorrigible Berger) even posed for a quick photo with me. The picture doesn't do him or me justice (mostly him), but he is truly as lovely as he is talented. He can burn my draft card any time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Twilight: Please Explain the Appeal

There are plenty of popular things that I’m not into, but I can at least see why they might appeal to someone else. Graphic novels. The Kindle. Sports. But when it comes to the rabid popularity of Twilight, I’m honestly at a loss. After years of wondering what all the hype was about, I bit the bullet and watched the first Twilight movie when it showed up on Showtime. And it was quite honestly one of the worst things I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen a LOT of crap). So can anyone explain its appeal to me?

Bella is a horrible role model. I shudder to think of the number of teenage girls who want to model themselves after swoony, breathless Bella. She has zero personality, no apparent hobbies or passions of her own, and is completely willing to sacrifice herself for the first guy she falls for…at the ripe old age of 17. That girl needs to get her own life, get the hell out of Forks, and discover what the world has to offer.

It is not a “chaste” love story. Apparently one of the primary reasons parents are so willing to let their preteens, tweens, and teens get swept up in the Twilight madness is because there is no sex going on in the stories. Hell, vampires can’t even kiss a human without major complications. But the movie is still chock full of tortured longing, sexual tension, heavy panting, overly emotional declarations, and all the other crap that teens go through. And it’s perfectly clear that if Bella and Edward were able to bone without problems, they totally would. So if parents are using Twilight as a way to teach their kids about waiting to have sex, they’d be better off, you know, actually talking to their kids about sex.

These guys are not sexy. I may be a bit biased since I was young during the last vampire craze, way back in the yesteryears of the 1990s when Anne Rice novels were hugely popular, and everyone saw Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Interview with the Vampire. Those vampires were sexy AND dangerous, which just helped to add to their sexiness. The Twilight vampires are whiny, emo, and…sparkly? And don’t even get me started on how creepy it is that there are “Twilight moms” who lust after them. If a middle-aged guy was drooling over a teenage girl, he’d be labeled a pervert and a pedophile, but if a middle-aged woman has her knickers in a knot over a teenage boy, everyone’s OK with it? That’s taking a double standard to an insanely creepy new level.

These are just my main issues with Twilight, as I don’t have the energy or the interest to get into the horrible acting, major plot holes, and plodding pacing. Are the novels much better than the movie? I know I’ve been disappointed with the Harry Potter movies after loving the books, so is this a similar issue of the movie not living up to its source material? Or is it simply a case of someone, somewhere decided Twilight was the new “it” thing, and everyone else just drank the Kool-Aid? Because on artistic merit alone, I can’t even justify it as a guilty pleasure, as guilty pleasures are supposed to have something pleasurable about them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Trailer Review: The Ghost Writer

Release Date: February 19, 2010 (limited)

Website: Official The Ghost Writer site

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Pierce Brosnan, Olivia Williams, Kim Cattrall

My Review: Roman Polanski may do horrible things in his personal life, but there’s no denying that he has made some pretty good—and chilling—movies. His latest offering, The Ghost Writer, looks like it has the potential to be an engaging thriller, assuming audiences can look past their opinions of Polanski the man and go see something by Polanski the artist.

Ewan McGregor, desperately in need of a “good” movie to star in, is a writer hired to put together the memoirs of a former prime minister, played by the never-aging Pierce Brosnan. The gig seems shady from the start, as McGregor is forced to work on a remote island location in a room where the manuscript is never allowed to leave. Then he discovers there was another writer hired first who died either by accident or suicide. Or, you know, maybe it was murder. Who can say?

When the prime minister is accused of war crimes and put under investigation, his ghost writer is naturally the first person the feds turn to, convinced that all the information they need can be found in the memoirs. And that is clearly not going to go over well with the prime minister and his weirdly cryptic staff.

I’ve always liked Ewan McGregor, and it would be nice to see Pierce Brosnan playing a sinister role, rather than the charming playboys he’s starting to outgrow (no matter how young he may look). British actress Olivia Williams is the prime minister’s wife, whose cool demeanor could work well for a character who doesn’t want to reveal whose side she’s on.

My one casting concern is Kim Cattrall as an assistant of some kind, who may or may not be using a fake British accent (her acting is so lame it’s hard to tell what exactly she’s going for in the trailer). I assume the idea was that she’d be a bigger draw for American audiences, and I’m somewhat ashamed that European filmmakers think so little of us.

Bottom Line: The Ghost Writer is something I’ll wait to check out as a rental, which is just as well since there are no immediate plans to release it widely in the US.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Theater Review: Mr. & Mrs. Fitch

Location: Second Stage Theatre, 305 West 43rd Street, NY, NY

Website: Official Second Stage Theatre site

Starring: John Lithgow, Jennifer Ehle

My Review: In a world where the death of print journalism is no longer a fear, but a stone-cold reality, the gossip columnists are probably the last people anyone is concerned for. And in the new comedy Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, by Douglas Carter Beane, the gossip columnists prove that they are not going down without a fight.

Mr. and Mrs. Fitch live in a happy, shiny bubble of wealth and notability in their spacious Manhattan loft. As famed gossip columnists, they used to be invited to the right parties, where they rubbed elbows with celebrities of every caliber, and then enjoyed the privilege of slandering those they barely know while their own lives remained private. Unfortunately, now that everyone and their mother has a camera phone, a blog, and a Twitter account, their business of being the first with the big scoop barely exists anymore. When their latest column is so lame that they’re threatened with pink slips, they do the only thing they can: They invent a celebrity, and a ready-to-wear sex scandal, out of thin air.

Even before the play began, I felt like I hated Mr. and Mrs. Fitch. The stage operates without a curtain, so their luxurious apartment is on full view while you wait for the show to begin. And the apartment is every New Yorker’s dream; high ceilings, stainless steel kitchen appliances, a slanted window wall overlooking the city, a spiral staircase leading to a lofted bedroom, and an exposed brick wall with built-in bookshelves, complete with a rolling ladder. It’s like real estate porn. Then the play opens with the happy couple stumbling in late at night, drunk and giddy after another night of hobnobbing with those dying to be seen, then sitting down to compose a quick column about who said what to whom before heading to bed. I instantly wondered who could possibly live such a privileged life of ridiculous and undeserved decadence. And apparently, not Mr. and Mrs. Fitch for much longer.

In a play that only features two characters, it’s imperative that the two actors cast are able to carry the entire performance. Luckily for Mr. & Mrs. Fitch, John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle are. Lithgow is definitely the stronger of the two, with his booming voice and theatrically pompous commanding of every scene. Ehle often seems to be trying to keep up with him, but that may be due more to their characters than their acting abilities.

Mr. and Mrs. Fitch have a bit of a May/December relationship, and as the younger partner, Mrs. Fitch is often subjected to jabs of being a “silly woman.” While it seems that Mr. Fitch means them in loving jest, she may be taking them more to heart, as she often seems to be striving to impress him with her bright ideas and witty banter. When threatened with a firing, Mr. Fitch flies into maudlin rage, so Mrs. Fitch takes it upon herself to find the solution to their problem. And after much hemming, hawing, and double-talk, she manages to convince him to invent a new celebrity that they can scandalize however they see fit. In this way, Ehle’s character seems to always be reaching, while Lithgow is allowed to be the more comic of the two.

While the set and the actors are stellar, Mr. & Mrs. Fitch falls a little flat with the play itself. It relies mostly on being clever and witty to elicit laughs, like constantly referencing books, musicals, writers, and other plays in ways that will only truly appeal to a devoted theatrical and literary crowd. There are also plenty of winking self-referential jokes, like when Lithgow declares that, “theater is what movie people do when they want to announce that they’re ready to do television.” Even when the jokey references hit home, they never created more than a slight chuckle in the crowd, making me wonder if the play would work better as an all-out campy comedy. With a premise as ripe for comedy as Mr. & Mrs. Fitch has—the fabrication of a huge lie to save a career that’s already dead—it seems a shame not to play it for big laughs. And already knowing the comedy skills Lithgow has, it also seems a waste to not fully use his talents.

Mr. & Mrs. Fitch also tries to be overly clever about the digital-obsessed world we live in, and hits its target only some of the time. For example, when Mr. Fitch wonders if he should get a Kindle, Mrs. Fitch reminds him that he had one and broke it when throwing it across the room in disgust over what he was reading. It’s a quick throwaway moment, but it resonated with how a lot of book lovers (myself included) feel about e-readers; they’re too delicate to withstand the voracity of a true reader. But then in another moment, Mr. and Mrs. Fitch realize they don’t have a real TV anymore and have to scramble to find their crappy little shoebox-sized TV that’s kept in the bookcase. How is it even feasible that two people who make their living as gossip columnists don’t have a 60-inch wall-mounted LCD constantly playing the E! channel in the background? It’s clear to the audience that the Fitches fancy themselves intellectual muckrakers, but it’s a stretch to ask us to believe that they would attempt to detach themselves so much from a key source of their livelihood.

Bottom Line: While an enjoyable enough night at the theater, Mr. & Mrs. Fitch has the potential to be more than it is. Rather than straddling the line between comedy and drama, I would have liked to have seen it tip the scale and go full-on farce. No one is going to lament the dying career of a pair of spoiled gossip columnists, so you may as well go for the gusto.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I Bet I Can Pick More 2010 Oscar Winners Than You

The 2010 Oscar nominations have been announced, and with just a little more than a month to go until the ceremony, I’m already bored. I’m not overly excited about any of the movies I have seen, and the nominations haven’t really lit a fire within me to check out anything new (the movies I haven’t seen haven’t been seen for a reason). Was this a particularly “blah” year for the movies? Or am I just getting too cynical in my old age? And most importantly, how does a movie (Avatar) that isn’t even nominated for screenplay or any acting manage to be front runner for “best” picture overall?

Best Picture


The Blind Side

District 9

An Education

The Hurt Locker

Inglourious Basterds

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

A Serious Man


Up in the Air

Will Win: They may as well pain the Oscar statue blue it’s so obvious Avatar will win.

My Choice: How awesome would it have been if The Hangover had been nominated? It wouldn’t have won in a million years, but with the new 10 movie format, I would have loved it if it had landed one of the slots. I didn’t particularly *love* any of these movies (and only saw five of them), but I would pick Up in the Air for managing to be funny, heartbreaking, and timely, without be melodramatic or pandering.

Actor in a Leading Role

Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart

George Clooney in Up in the Air

Colin Firth in A Single Man

Morgan Freeman in Invictus

Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

Will Win: Barring a huge upset, Jeff Bridges has this pretty much locked.

My Choice: I do love me some (or a lot) Colin Firth, so I’d probably just give it to him just to hear him give an acceptance speech.

Actress in a Leading Role

Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side

Helen Mirren in The Last Station

Carey Mulligan in An Education

Gabourey Sidibe in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia

Will Win: Even though heavy-hitters like Mirren and Streep are nominated (oh yeah, and Bullock *snort*), I think Gabourey Sidibe will be the winner.

My Choice: While I had mixed feelings about Precious as a whole, Sidibe was unbelievable in it and deserves to win. And judging by her talk show appearances, her acceptance speech should be awesome.

Actor in a Supporting Role

Matt Damon in Invictus

Woody Harrelson in The Messenger

Christopher Plummer in The Last Station

Stanley Tucci in The Lovely Bones

Christoph Waltz in Inglourious Basterds

Will Win: Christoph Waltz. He spoke four languages fluently, was an absolutely terrifying Nazi, yet was almost charming at times, and gives one of the best jubilant cries of “Bingo!” I’ve ever heard.

My Choice: Christoph Waltz. Again, He spoke four languages fluently, was an absolutely terrifying Nazi, yet was almost charming at times, and gives one of the best jubilant cries of “Bingo!” I’ve ever heard.

Actress in a Supporting Role

Penélope Cruz in Nine

Vera Farmiga in Up in the Air

Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart

Anna Kendrick in Up in the Air

Mo’Nique in Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Will Win: Mo’Nique has this in the bag. And every other lady in this category knows it.

My Choice: I loved Anna Kendrick back when she was in Camp, but I’m not going to deny that Mo’Nique deserves to win.

Animated Feature Film


Fantastic Mr. Fox

The Princess and the Frog

The Secret of Kells


Will Win: Up. They should really just rename this category, “And the Oscar goes to Pixar.”

My Choice: Up. The reason Pixar always wins, is simply because their movies are just superior to the other choices.

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

District 9 Written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell

An Education Screenplay by Nick Hornby

In the Loop Screenplay by Jesse Armstrong, Simon Blackwell, Armando Iannucci, Tony Roche

Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire Screenplay by Geoffrey Fletcher

Up in the Air Screenplay by Jason Reitman and Sheldon Turner

Will Win: This one is tricky to predict. It’ll probably be either Precious or Up in the Air, with my guess being Up in the Air.

My Choice: Making a detached character like Ryan Bingham sympathetic and relatable had to have been a daunting task, so I’d choose Up in the Air.

Writing (Original Screenplay)

The Hurt Locker Written by Mark Boal

Inglourious Basterds Written by Quentin Tarantino

The Messenger Written by Alessandro Camon & Oren Moverman

A Serious Man Written by Joel Coen & Ethan Coen

Up Screenplay by Bob Peterson, Pete Docter, Story by Pete Docter, Bob Peterson, Tom McCarthy

Will Win: Other than in the technical categories, this is probably the one shot The Hurt Locker has at winning. Inglourious Basterds might have a shot, but I think the number of plot holes and unanswered questions might hurt its chances, making The Hurt Locker the winner.

My Choice: Despite its flaws, Inglourious Basterds was a more verbose movie than The Hurt Locker, so I would think it more deserving of a writing award.


James Cameron Avatar

Kathryn Bigelow The Hurt Locker

Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds

Lee Daniels Precious: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire

Jason Reitman Up in the Air

Will Win: As much as everyone seems to want to pit amicable exes Cameron and Bigelow against each other (despite the fact neither seems even remotely interested in competing and they have only good things to say about each other’s movies), Cameron will no doubt win for Avatar.

My Choice: I’m in the major minority here in that I don’t give a crap about Avatar. I’d either give it to Reitman because I have a bit of a crush on him, or Tarantino because he’s so wonderfully weird, or Bigelow because she proves that women can be interested in movies that aren’t about weddings or makeovers.

So there they are, my predictions for the 2010 Oscars. Will I score 100% like last year? Do you even care? We’ll find out on March 7!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Theater Review: In the Heights

Location: Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 West 46th Street, NY, NY

Website: Official In the Heights site

Starring: Corbin Bleu, Mandy Gonzalez, Marcy Harriell, Christopher Jackson, Robin de Jesús, Olga Merediz

My Review: Though In the Heights first arrived on Broadway two years ago (and won the 2008 Tony for Best Musical), it’s taken me this long to finally see it. And the only reason I saw it now was because a friend had an extra free ticket. And while there is some good stuff going on In the Heights, on the whole I’m really glad I didn’t pay to see it.

In the Heights tells the story of a tight-knit community in Washington Heights, a less-than-glamorous neighborhood in upper Manhattan comprised primarily of Latinos. In this part of the city, everyone knows everyone else, and each character has their own story to tell. There’s Usnavi, the resident nice guy who runs the corner bodega and knows how everyone likes their coffee. There’s Nina, the neighborhood success story, who just returned home for the summer after a tough first year at Stanford. There’s Vanessa, who dreams of getting the hell out of Washington Heights, especially now that the salon she works at is being forced to the Bronx thanks to rent hikes. There’s Abuela Claudia, who is everyone’s grandmother in spirit, but not in actual blood. And then there’s a multitude of others who carve out room for themselves in these stories, like Nina’s proud parents who run their own cab company and have high hopes for their daughter; Benny, the non-Latino who happily works for Nina’s parents, until he sets his sights on Nina and is deemed “not good enough”; and Sonny, Usnavi’s wisecracking teenage cousin whose idea of helping out is to be up in everybody’s business. Oh, and then there’s that whole business with Usnavi discovering he sold at $96,000 winning lotto ticket to one of the residents, but which one?

If all of these interconnecting vignettes make you think “soap opera,” you’re right; In the Heights plays out very much like a Spanish soap opera. A high-energy, well-choreographed soap opera, but a soap opera nonetheless. By the middle of the second act, the show is so bogged down with melodramatic clichés and sanctimonious preaching, I felt like I should have been watching it on SoapNet.

Usnavi has loved Vanessa for years, but can’t confess his feelings, and when they go dancing with some friends, she goes out of her way to make him jealous by dancing with other guys. Which I guess could be cute if these characters were 15, rather than supposed adults somewhere in their 20’s. Nina is so smart she’s apparently going to save the world, but she’s flunking out of Stanford because most of her time is spent working two jobs to pay for what her scholarship doesn’t cover. And of course she can only reveal this after the big dramatic speech from her parents about how proud they are of her. Abuela Claudia is so old she remembers what life was like before coming to America, so she’s wise enough to enjoy the simple pleasures in life while the rest of the neighborhood complains about how poor they are and how hot the city is in the summer. It’s all very dramatic in the Heights.

When not being bogged down with overwrought storylines, the audience finds itself being deafened by the musical numbers. I know it makes me sound older than Abuela Claudia herself, but the show is too fucking loud. The orchestra pit is under the stage, but there is no muffling of the sound going on. Every song is accompanied by instruments played with such gusto, it almost sounds like the orchestra members are attacking them, and therefore needlessly overshadowing the lyrics being sung onstage. More often than not, I couldn’t even understand what was being sung due to the loud orchestra, and I was already working overtime to catch everything due to the show’s penchant for lightening-quick rapping (especially from Usnavi).

While In the Heights is kind of a mess overall, there are some good elements to it. Where the show really shines is in its choreography. While I may not have been able to hear what the cast was singing, I could definitely appreciate their moves, as every kind of high-energy dance was incorporated; salsa, mambo, hip-hop, breakdancing, etc. The unnamed chorus members take on the bulk of the dancing responsibilities, and they make every movement look seamless and effortless. Which of course means they’re probably doing the most work of anyone on that stage.

Most of the performances were ably performed. Creator and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda usually stars as Usnavi, but is taking a break for a few months and giving the role to Corbin Bleu, aka “the guy from High School Musical who isn’t Zac Efron.” Having somewhat low expectations due to HSM being one of the worst things I’ve ever seen, I was pleasantly surprised with Bleu’s performance. He was obviously having a great time onstage, and easily kept up with the rapid-fire raps that Miranda spews so effortlessly. Robin de Jesús as teenage Sonny steals every scene he appears in, and is a breath of fresh air as one of the few characters who doesn’t seem to hate every part of his life (the fact that de Jesús convincingly plays a plucky teen while actually being in his mid-20’s is also impressive, though a tactic that would only work on a stage). The women of In the Heights hold their own for the most part, but the final standout performance for me was Christopher Jackson as Benny. The whole “just because I’m not Latino doesn’t mean I’m not good enough for your daughter” stuff got to be a bit much, but Jackson gave a very heartfelt performance of a tough guy on the exterior who actually has dreams and aspirations on the inside.

Bottom Line: The fact that In the Heights won the Tony for Best Musical kind of boggles my mind. Though remembering that it was up against Cry-Baby, Passing Strange, and Xanadu reminds me that 2008 was kind of a weak season (though I have heard that Passing Strange was good). The show has enough things working in its favor to save it from being a total waste of an evening, but unless seeing a clichéd soap opera set to ludicrously loud music is your idea of fun, it’s an easy one to miss.