The rhythm was three times two, three beats in one measure and two in the next, almost like a heartbeat, and it sounded naked, played with a clave (small wooden instrument) on a black stage. This was today historic start of In The Heights, a work seemingly out of nowhere that shook Broadway in 2008, won four Tonys including Best Musical and revitalized the genre – so often bogged down – by mixing salsa, bolero, merengue, pop, hip hop and music. reggaeton with fine American musical tradition. And that tres por dos, the rhythmic base of all these genres, proclaimed the arrival of something Latin, giant, and, incidentally, twinned to another work that had used exactly the same resource 51 years earlier: in West Side Story, Leonard Bernstein put the same heartbeat to the keys in the first bars of America, the most identifiable song of the most indelible musical in history.
This year, both monumental works join paths again, this time as film adaptations; a, In The Heights, premieres this Friday under the Spanish title of In a New York neighborhood; the other, West Side Story, in December and directed by Steven Spielberg. In between, three other films will bring to the screen some of the greatest works of recent decades, Tony-winning, Olivier-nominated, and acclaimed by the generally grim audiences of the world. off Broadway. You have to go back decades to see such an ambitious collection of productions of the genre. The musical, although a temporary thing, is back.
“Hollywood never finished abandoning the musical comedy, the only genuinely North American genre alongside the western and from which 70 musical films were released a year in the 1940s. Although we are very far from these figures, the concentration of large titles this 2021 is historical, “he explains Fernando De Luis-Orueta, theatrical producer who has spent decades observing the relationship between the Spanish public with the genre. “The reason lies in the atomization of the public in the era of platforms: the objective is no longer so much to produce content for all audiences but also content for each audience. And the musical has a faithful and dedicated audience, eager for content and in full generational renewal ”, he argues.
In a New York neighborhood, that begins this era, is a classic musical in the sense that it offers little history, a lot of song and, above all, an energy: that of a summer day in the Washington Heights neighborhood, where immigrants from various Latin countries coexist . They only have that in common, their roots, represented by music, and an uncertain future that takes them away from them. Throughout a summer day and without air conditioning due to a blackout, neighbors fall in love, gossip with each other, play the lottery, question their place in their families, tell stories and meet their elders. The original work served as a prelude to what would be the impact of Obama on American culture and was, in addition, the first triumph of the now untouchable Lin-Manuel Miranda, author of the greatest public and critical success on Broadway in decades. Hamilton. Pulitzer winner, five Tonys, multiple Oscar nominees, Miranda is today the most clever heir to Leonard Bernstein’s maxim about what a musical is: “It’s a play with urban jazz, the essence of American music.” .
Bernstsein himself applied the tale so well in West Side Story that little remains to be said about the work today. Except that the expectation for the adaptation of Spielberg, where the score remains in the hands of Gustavo Dudamel, is so great that, when he aired a first trailer of a few seconds during the Oscars, he stole the attention, on social networks, of the winners during almost half an hour. His Maria, Rachel Zegler, became a star only through the networks the year that elapsed between the filming and the supposed premiere, in December 2020. The year that has passed since then (it was delayed by the pandemic) has not detracted from relevance. It’s probably the first time that an adaptation of a nearly 60-year-old musical has sparked two years of anticipation.
If it opens in December it is because the novelties of the autumn-winter season multiply its luck at the Oscars. An aspiring competitor will be released in September, the highly accessible Dear Evan Hansen, which dominated the theatrical season in 2017 (and, too, took the Tony). The adaptation, with Amy Adams and Julianne Moore, promises to leave the original story intact: a boy with a broken arm and adjustment problems in high school creates a web of lies to become a patron saint of the forgotten in America’s schools. The text asks that we empathize with him, which is not a small request, but it was interpreted by the impressive Ben Platt (The Politician), Revelation star of that production, and that helps (as much as it helped the actor in his career and training being the son of one of the biggest producers in the industry). In the film, Platt faces the challenge of reprising the role of fifteen-year-old now 27 years old and in close-ups. The score, largely composed of pop ballads (at least one is exceptional), is from the duo Pasek & Paul, two of the greatest connoisseurs of what the general public asks of a work, as blockbusters have shown La La Land, The Greatest Showman, Trolls or the new version of Aladdin.
The biggest problem of Dear Evan Hansen it will arrive five days before. On September 17 it premieres on Amazon Prime Video Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, adaptation of another work from 2017 about a misfit boy in high school and his problems expressing his inner world. In this case, it is an English cult work, based on a real case of a young gay man who in 2011 stood dressed as a drag queen at the end-of-term dance at her high school in Sheffield. It is not the commercial bomb of Dear Evan Hansen, because a smaller, individual and charismatic story, that of Jamie and the obstacles he overcomes to get to the dance with him drag ready. And this gives it its greatest weapon: its luminosity, which in the film enhances the performances of Max Harwood in the title role and Oscar nominee Richard E. Grant as the mentor that where he goes he hung up his heels.
However, nothing surpasses the cult that surrounds the figure of Jonathan Larson, author of Rent, a theatrical phenomenon that shook the New York of the nineties and became the seventh musical to win the Pulitzer Prize. As this title is already more than amortized in the audiovisual (it has a film adaptation and several filmed functions), and Larson died suddenly before its premiere, what arrives in 2021 is Tick Tick… Boom!, his lesser known and more autobiographical work. It consists of a series of songs performed by a young musical composer who questions his existence. Since it was never released on Broadway, since 1990 it has been a cult object of the most coffee growers of the genre. This will inevitably change this year, when Netflix releases the film that Lin-Manuel Miranda directs (now he also directs cinema) with Andrew Garfield at the helm.
In Spain, this year looks essential to continue breaking down the almost disappeared wall between the genre and the public. “New generations of fans of the genre are being incorporated via phenomena such as Hamilton, of which the simple recording of a theatrical performance was the most successful launch of Disney + in 2020 ″, points out De Luis-Orueta. “Lin-Manuel Miranda, its author, this year premieres four! musical movies actually: In The Heights, Tick Tick … Boom! and two animated films for rival companies (Vivoby Sony; Y Charm, from Disney)”. And it all started with a two by three. Almost 60 years ago.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.