because i saw Jackielou Blanco in some trailer for some soap today, and i thought: damnit i haven’t written about In The Heights Manila. and then Nyoy Volante was singing on TV, and i thought, damnit i haven’t written about In The Heights Manila.
which I saw in March, when Atlantis Productions did a repeat run, and when my friend Sining got tickets from her Filipino language student K-La over at ABS-CBN. on the night that i saw it, playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda was watching the show, and i was teary-eyed as he went up onstage and congratulated the cast. he was obviously overwhelmed too, and for good reason.
that cast was wonderful as one is wont to expect of an Atlantis Production, but even then? reality talent show loser K-La was surprisingly up to the challenge of singing her way through the sensitivity that the character of Nina required. Ima Castro balanced the dreamy with the right amount of, uh, ditzy. That ensemble was wonderfully in sync with the each other, and navigated a set that could only be more challenging than most. Tex Ordonez’s Daniela had the best comic timing, i wanted to go get some of that swagger. That the singing was fantastic across the board goes without saying.
but there was Jackielou Blanco for In the Heights Manila, and she was not just as wonderful as the rest of that ensemble, she had this presence onstage that just resonated as the wife and mother Camila, tired of being such, and of being stuck in the middle of husband and daughter. Jackielou’s “Enough” was the right amount of strong and exasperated, a sermon turned song turned monologue of matriarch ready to up and leave, or at this point is just saying: damn you family that cannot deal. damn you. that Jackielou does this with aplomb and chutzpah was this production’s gift.
but it did have Nyoy Volante too, who i’ve always known to be talented, but in this musicale just seriously outdoes himself. often i find that when the lead in a production also has a pop culture persona (i.e., TV singing, movie acting), it takes a while to actually get into his character unfolding on the theater stage. Nyoy had me wondering if it was him at all, because it could’ve been someone else, but then again, how many guys are this talented. we might be a country that prides itself in having the best talents, but this one’s distinctly about a litheness on stage, an agility even, that worked seamlessly with a singing and rapping voice that allowed for the character of Usnavi to come alive. more than that though, Nyoy allowed for Usnavi to be about a kindness that resonates, his spirit one that is about keeping things together, staying where he’s always been, dreaming of love but not knowing how to go get it. in Nyoy’s hands Usnavi was charming, but also just a beautiful creature, full stop. it was also ultimately familiar, even as Usnavi and the rest of this musicale were obviously so removed from us, even when we could watch this and think: ah, look at the marginalized of America.
but this marginalized is us, too. the thread that ties us to In The Heights is about a Catholicism that’s about hopefulness and helplessness, is about the kind of familiarity we engage in to survive daily living, is about community and family. is about being neglected and silenced and forgotten, and thinking there must be reason to leave, and to stay. and that in the end there is music, and for this audience that this just might save us.
at least for me, In The Heights Manila did just that. renewing more than anything faith in the Filipino talent, and the possibility still at being surprised by it. and really just reminding us that sometimes a little swagger, plenty of attitude, and a lot of dancing does wonders. and yes that is me wishing for another repeat just so i can watch it again.