At the Arts Club Stanley Theatre until June 7, 2015
I am happy to recommend this show to my readers. It was, of course very successful on Broadway in 2008, playing over 1,000 performance and picking up a Tony. I did not see it there - quite possibly because they did not have tickets at the half price place on Times Square.
It is a musical and combines a variety of styles - including rap, which I must admit in general for me is a bit of a turn off - with plenty of latino rhythms and the rather predictable Big Broadway Solos - and excellent dance numbers. The 14 strong cast - all local - and all chosen by audition - are not just good actors but good singers and dancers too.
The book is by Quiera Alegria Hughes who has mixed Puerto Rican and Jewish descent and strong parallels with the experience with the lead female character Nina. The setting is the top of Manhattan Island, which is not the sort of area where tourists go, although the only warnings I have been aware of referred to the black 'hoods rather than the barrio. This is also not the same view of Manhattan we got from West Side Story.
It is all about how immigrants deal with a new foreign place and how they cling to familiar things from their own cultures. It's not a convenience store, it's a bodega. The taxi drivers speak Spanish, but even then there are significant differences between the cultures of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Cuba. The guy who wants to be a dispatcher is an African American: is his status as an honorary latino enough for his girl friend's father who is also his boss? Money, or rather the lack of it, is a common theme of the interweaving story lines. As the needs of the residents of the barrio to move on, to assimilate and to escape from the inevitable gentrification that is coming. The story lines may be based in the Big Apple, but they have a distinct resonance for Vancouver.
So I was won over by the show and the showmanship and I think you will be too, unless you are hard hearted or prejudiced. The songs were not familiar to me, but then I do not listen to that kind of radio. So far as I know none of them became big hits. But they all work well. And the story does have its sentimental moments, and I did tear up - and more than once too. I am not going to pick out any one performance since it is very much an ensemble piece and there is no weak member of the cast in any sense. One or two real surprises to, so do not be tempted to read too far into "Bill's Notes" plot synopsis before the show starts.