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Tales from the Motherhood: Enjoying Fox Valley theater scene with ‘In the Heights’

Published: Friday, Sept. 20, 2013 5:55 p.m. CDT • Updated: Sunday, Sept. 22, 2013 4:20 p.m. CDT

(Continued from Page 1)

My 15-year-old wasn’t up for a play. Said he was gonna sleep right through it.

“Fine,” I said, sighing, “as long as we’re all in the same room.”

Seems my standards have dipped quite low, recently. Being in the same room qualifies as quality family time? Is that what it’s come to? Seriously? Good lord. Never thought we’d be “those” people. Whatever.

We were all in foul moods by the time we took our seats at the Paramount Theater last Saturday afternoon, but perked right up as the first act of “In the Heights” opened with break-dancing graffiti artist Pete, played by Kris Santiago, doing his thing. So much for Noah’s nap. Ha! I coulda kissed Pete.

We all loved the show, even my reluctant teenager.

“It’s good! I like it,” he volunteered at intermission. (I swear I didn’t say, “Told ya so.” Didn’t wanna press my luck.)

Apparently, we’re in good company, as this Broadway hit, which depicts three days of the goings-on in a largely Hispanic neighborhood in New York City as the folks there wrestle with hopes and dreams, changes and griefs, took home a handful of Tony’s a few years ago. I’ll say it again. How lucky are we to get to enjoy such fine theater right here in the Fox Valley, without having to schlep all the way to Chicago? 

I couldn’t help but be reminded of another show with an urban setting – “Sesame Street.”

Sorry guys, but, you know, the stoop, the people with deep roots so interconnected with each other, the grocer and even the friendly vendor peddling products on the street? Yeah. No offense to the Paramount’s truly terrific orchestra and the perfectly cast players of “The Heights” (perfectly!), led by Nick Demeris (Usnavi), but I admit I’ve had the classic “Sesame Street” tune, “Who Are the People in Your Neighborhood?” stuck in my head all week. Stuck. I’m a mom. It happens.

Little ones actually will be thrilled with the fantastic dancing (hip-hop!), singing and pulsing energy of “Heights,” but the show may not appeal to all audiences, as it’s more of a PG performance. Think “Dirty Dancing” but with a little less skin. And a few more “swears.”

I admit, my kids did kinda enjoy observing the couple seated in front of us, for whom the swearing clearly inspired discomfort. But at least they enjoyed it together. I’ll take what I can get. Like I said, my standards are low.

My compliments to the director, Rachel Rockwell, who also directed the Paramount’s “Annie” and “The Music Man.”

Not one of the portrayals in “The Heights,” which plays through Oct. 6  – coinciding with National Hispanic Heritage Month – felt forced or insincere.

There was nothing distracting to make me wish I’d spent my precious time elsewhere, or my kids rail at me for “putting me through this.” (Hallelujiah!)

The choreography wasn’t over-the-top, either, which I’ve occasionally observed happening in musicals. 

Here, the dancing, while certainly impossible to miss and thoroughly enjoyable, avoids demanding attention and instead helps to tell the story without detracting from it. In fact, everything about this show, even the swearing, feels honest.

I really did feel the tender heat between Nina and Benny, played by Christina Nieves and Jonathan Butler-Duplessis. You want sweetness and light? That’s cool, but head to another show. You want unvarnished truths about the struggles and joys of family and community? Come into “The Heights.” You won’t be disappointed. Like the characters, you’ll find it hard to leave.

• Jennifer DuBose lives in Batavia with her husband, Todd, and their two children, Noah and Holly. Contact her at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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