In the Heights

Last night, I saw In the Heights at Woodminster Amphitheater in Joaquin Miller Park in the Oakland hills. Produced by Woodminster Summer Musicals, “Oakland's Broadway in the Redwoods Since 1967.”

It was great. Highly recommended. There’s another performance tonight, and four more next Thursday through Sunday, if you’re interested.

I listened to the recording of the show last year, following along with the lyrics at, and liked it a lot—sweet and charming and sad and funny, with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s trademark dazzling panoply of rhymes and near-rhymes and nicely drawn characters. (Thanks to KTO for recommending it!) So when Debbie offered me a ticket to see it live, I was delighted. (Thanks again, Debbie!)

I was a little bit concerned when I saw that Woodminster’s other shows this summer were Oklahoma! and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I wondered whether a 50-year-old theatre that does Broadway shows and that picked those two shows in particular might do something unfortunate like an all-white In the Heights.

But I needn’t have worried. As far as I could tell, most or all of the cast were POC, and many of them have Latinx names. And they were all really good.

(One nice touch: All of the pre-show announcements were given in both English and Spanish, as were the program notes.)

I liked pretty much all of the singing and pretty much all of the acting. I laughed and cried at appropriate moments. The guy playing Usnavi, the main character, did a fine job channeling LMM (same intonations, same accent). Lots of good singing, lots of good dancing (to the extent that I can tell).

The set was impressive, and the backdrop of the bridge was lovely; at first I thought it was a huge real 3D bridge.

I haven’t loved most of the live theatre that I’ve seen in the past couple years, for a couple of reasons:

  • My hearing isn’t all it could be, and professional-theatre sound systems tend to result in my having a hard time making out all the words; and the hearing devices provided by the theatres tend to add a layer of electronicizing that distances me from the sound. So I was very pleased to find that Woodminster’s sound system was perfectly loud and clear for me. I lost some of the lyrics in a few songs, especially when a crowd was singing, but most of it was the clearest audio I’ve heard at a live production in ages. I have no idea whether other people felt that way; may just be that it happened to work well with my ears. (I had also brought my Hearphones, expecting to need to boost the audio volume, but it turned out that I didn’t need them.) Maybe in an enclosed theatre, echoes mess with my hearing? Maybe these singers were particularly good? Dunno. Whatever the reason, it was really nice to be able to hear everything clearly.
  • My vision isn’t all it could be (my last visit to the optometrist, I was surprised and saddened to learn that my vision can’t be completely corrected with lenses now), and so if I’m sitting more than about ten rows back, I can’t see the actors’ faces clearly. I can still see body language and such, but I feel like I miss a lot without clear facial expressions. So I brought my binoculars last night, and instead of my usual “embarrassed to be using them, so I only use them once in a while at key moments” approach, I used them for a fair bit of the show, especially when there were only one or two people onstage. And that helped.

Anyway, I don’t know if any of that is relevant to anyone but me, but it added up to a significantly better live-theatre experience than I’ve had in a while.

A couple quick notes about the venue: As noted on the Woodminster website, the seats are a little hard (I agree with them that bringing a small pillow or blanket or other cushion to sit on is a good idea), and it can get fairly chilly. Dress warmly. I’m not sure whether there’s any accessible seating at the venue; I would guess so, but I don’t know. Oh, and arrive early; parking is limited and a little complicated, and this is a popular show.

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