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I Was an In the Heights Lotto Loser.

The thing about Broadway ticket lotteries is this: when I lose, I am practically incapable of walking away.  By the time I’ve gone through the whole thing— rushing to the theater on time, filling out that tiny slip of paper, waiting in the midst of a gaggle of excited fans and visitors—I am too excited.  I just have to see the show and all too often I end up purchasing tickets anyway.  It’s bad.  I won’t even allow myself to admit exactly how much money I’ve spent at TKTS after losing the Be-In raffle at Hair.  That number is too frightening for my delicate budget balancing act/credit score.  And confessing it would make it real.

As you might imagine, this inability to walk away is only heightened when my trip to the theater is panicked, like it was this past Saturday.  When I’ve run from Penn Station to the Upper East Side, then hauled luggage up to my third floor apartment, arriving there with only enough time to put my suitcase down inside the door and turn around to leave again, hurriedly retracing my steps to the 6 train and heading back downtown, this time to Times Square.  After all that effort, I feel as though I’ve earned my ticket.  I feel entitled to a show.

So it will come as no shock, dear readers, when I tell you that after losing the In the Heights ticket lotto at the Richard Rogers Theater last weekend, C___ and I purchased a pair of aptly named ‘Lotto Loser’ tickets at the box office for the badass price of $41.50, which is less than double the cost of a lotto winner ticket.  I have to toast the folks at the Nederlander organization for this wonderful scheme, not only because it got me into that theater without paying TKTS prices, but also because C___ and I were not in some shitty obstructed view seats.  Plus, I suspect this little scheme is helping keep the doors open at the Richard Rogers Theater and the more theaters with their lights on in this city, the better, in my opinion.

I am late for the In the Heights party, clearly.  The show—with music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda—opened in March of 2008 and I’m only just now seeing it, a whopping two years behind schedule.  I don’t even know what kept me so long, really.  Besides, I guess, life’s breakneck pace and a financially crippling love for Jonathan Groff.  This is one show that boy will never star in.

But my lateness and all the show’s considerable faults aside—you’ve read the reviews already, I’m sure, and formed your own opinions, too—I’m so glad C___ and I forked over the cash for tickets, even as Lotto Losers.  And not just because it was the day before C___’s birthday and she wanted to and she left the theater so damn happy that almost any amount of money would have been worth it.  No.  Because I’m glad I finally saw that damn show.  It was beginning to feel like a big, ugly black hole in my theater history.  And I was getting really tired of saying “oh, I want to see that,” whenever In the Heights came up in conversation.

I didn’t love it.  Or at least, after one viewing I didn’t love it.  (Sometimes, I need multiple viewings of things in order to love them.  Sometimes I’m too busy thinking and analyzing the first time, to really get it.) But I don’t know that without Lin Manuel Miranda this is a show I could ever truly love.  Because after it was over, as I tried to sort through how I felt, I realized how much of that show was Lin, and how much Lin was to that show.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the experience.  Because I did.  I laughed, and I cried (once quite profusely).  I felt things.  I remembered exactly where I was during the 2003 Blackout, how I’d walked across the Brooklyn Bridge to a sort-of-friend’s Aunt’s apartment and used my cell phone to light a stairwell enough to see what I was trying to climb.  I heard strains of music that made me want to dance, that I’d danced to in New York City clubs in my lifetime.  I felt a swell of pride seeing New York Yankees caps on the stage.  And perhaps most importantly, at least to me as theater fan, I saw a musical that was both thoroughly modern and obviously built on the bones of Theater’s golden past.  That made me happy for the life of musicals in general.  In that theater I was reminded of the kind of musicals I saw as a child that taught me to love theater so deeply and I imagined In the Heights will do the same for lots of kids in generations to come, especially now that it’s being filmed for the Big Screen.

Unfortunately, I also felt like something was missing and after a lot of consideration, I’m almost positive that thing, that piece that was missing, was Lin.  I’m not trying to take away from Corbin Blue’s performance.  He was lovely, he played Usnavi with an awkward charm that I know was not natural to him and he managed it without seeming over-rehearsed.  Blue let Usnavi’s words roll off his tongue with impressive facility.  But at the end of the day Usnavi is the heart and soul of that show—even as the lives of other characters unfold around him, center stage—and Lin was the heart and soul of Usnavi.  With Lin, In the Heights must have shone its brightest, soared its highest.  No matter how wonderful a job Corbin did, those words are so clearly a part of Lin that without him, their verve just isn’t the same.  Without him the show just isn’t the same.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I finally dragged my ass down to the Richard Rogers for In the Heights.  Not only because now I don’t have to keep saying “oh, I want to see that!” but also because maybe, with patience and faith, I’ll finally get a chance to see In the Heights as it was meant to be, with Lin there center stage to tell the story, and then I’ll have something to compare it to.

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