Oh, Lin Manuel Miranda- how we love thee! As soon as I saw this production would be happening in Portland, I began anxiously awaiting day tickets would go on sale. The day finally came, and I snatched up tickets for myself, the kids, and the husband.
If you are not familiar, Lin Manuel Miranda started writing this musical while still in college. It eventually found its way to Broadway, winning several Tonys and changing the face of Broadway.
The story takes place in Washington Heights, a primarily Dominican and Puerto Rican neighborhood in New York City. It is set over 4th of July weekend. It is full of salsa and hip hop music, humor, dance, and fun. Both Chicken and Nugget really enjoyed visually exploring the realistic set of this particular production. A working crosswalk sign is prominent, which they found fascinating. How did they get it on stage? Where was it plugged in? Would the cast have to wait for the walking signal before they could cross the stage? These questions and more kept them quite busy before the show started. The store fronts are very realistic and it really looks like a neighborhood corner. The costumes were spot on for the time period and region, and the shoes seriously deserved their own mention in the cast list.
But the show also highlights important social issues related to the formation of community and family, financial strain, diversity, ambition, the hopes of immigrant parents for their children, the path for children of immigrants to live up to their parent’s dreams, and what exactly “home” means. Lines such as “why learn the language if they still won’t hear you?” among others solidly hit home in more poignant moments. This show is so timely and it was wonderful to see immigrants represented in such a positive and respectful light. The show and cast masterfully build and release emotion and tension. They truly take you on a journey right along with them.
The show doesn’t shy away from the incorporation of Spanish in the music lyrics or dialog. Being bilingual myself and with Chicken and Nugget in a Spanish immersion school, we loved seeing the representation of people, culture, language, and even flags on stage. After the show was over, Nugget commented “it was like seeing maestra on stage!”
While Nugget went and thoroughly loved it, this is not a play geared for young children and I would not recommend it for a young child’s first exposure to theater. There is quite a bit of swearing (Nugget said it should be renamed “The Play with Lots of Swears”), a fight at a nightclub, sexual innuendo (that went completely over the heads of both the kiddos). That being said, though, Nugget was trying to process what was happening. He asked lots of good questions during and after the show in his efforts to put it all together.
Chicken, age 9, came closer to appreciating the themes of the show, but still missed some of the intricacies and just doesn’t have enough life experience to understand all of the references to broader social issues.
However, this show could be a great conversation started with older children. Themes are brought up in a thoughtful and impactful way that music somehow makes more accessible.
And if you want a night out without the kiddos, this is the perfect show. It was amazing and is definitely in my top 5! I highly recommend it for the grown-up contingent amongst us.
And heads up- a movie version of this production will be released on June 26, 2020. Guess where we will be that day!
What it’s not… recommended for young children, in a venue friendly to young kids (Nugget is over the required age but we were stopped MULTIPLE times and asked how old he was and were actively discouraged from taking him in. I did not cave and have no regrets. I seriously feel better about him having seen this show than Star Wars. Or Captain Marvel. Or SpiderMan. You get the point).
What it is… beautiful, powerful, fun, funny, thought provoking, telling the story of communities not often seen on stage, bilingual, extremely talented cast, moving, amazing music, timely
Do we recommend it? For older children or a date night out- yes, yes yes! The dialog moves quickly and it may be worth a listen of the soundtrack before your visit
Tickets can be found here: https://www.pcs.org