What a beautiful clear & sunny day we had for Labor Day yesterday! But it was not a day off for the cast and crew of Paramount’s IN THE HEIGHTS! Our offices at The North Island Center were closed, but rehearsals at “The Elks” were in full swing. Knowing there was about half an hour until lunch, I dropped in to catch the end of the morning’s rehearsal. With a bounce in my step, I enter the hall and immediately hit a wall. Everyone focused, still. The air in here heavy, something unbearable. I am intruding. I try to duck into the room and find myself kneeling next to Rachel, a chair appears, I sit, and with a glance, Rachel passes me a tissue…oh. The scene begins. Ricardo Gutierrez as Nina’s father, “Kevin”, speaks from the radio dispatch booth of his car service business: “Atencion’. Atencion’. Please drive slow, let everybody know, Abuela Claudia passed away at noon today.” The heaviness of his heart fills his voice, his eyes, his face gaunt with grief. Those who dwell in the Washington Heights neighborhood enter the street answering his cry over the loud speaker. The full company carries the weight of losing this woman beloved as a grandmother to all of them as Nick Demeris’ “Usnavi” begins an “Alabanza,” a hymn “TO RAISE THIS THING TO GOD’S FACE AND TO SING, QUITE LITERALLY: ‘PRAISE TO THIS.’ ” Angel voiced Christina Nieves’ “Nina” sings and is joined by all in a sound celebrating the life of a humble woman who loved them… and ultimately celebrates life itself. How this turns to joy is just incredible…is a wonder…and the tissue is handy.
My thoughts rush to the theater. I have yet to see the set that our crew has been installing since dawn. I get to Paramount as Sound Designer Jeff Dublinske and his assistant come out for a smoke. (God, I wish people I care about would quit smoking). “How’s it going?” We hug. “Good!” Referring to some newly installed gear: “Are you happy?” “Yeah, I’m happy.” I ask as it took a lot of discussion and number crunching to get him what he needed within budget. “How’s it lookin’?” “It’s up.” My mouth drops. I lost sleep last night worried about the set arriving on time from New York. (The original Broadway set on tour is so stunning, Tim (Rater) and I decided we’d try to get it after it finished it’s run and we did!) But what if doesn’t arrive complete…what if there are parts missing…just one part missing could bring the whole operation to a standstill…are we gonna be okay assembling a set we didn’t build…did we schedule enough time for this…Tech Rehearsal starts Wednesday…will we have to keep the lighting team and actors and director waiting…there are too many things that could go wrong…who thought this was a good idea!!! Entering the theater, my lungs suck up the air in a gasp…and then I exhale and bellow: “It looks like New Yawk!!!” Oh, dear friends, it’s a beauty! Lighting Designer Jesse Klug and his assistant are onstage…”Jimmy Corti! Let me come down and hug you!” I tell him, “I was so worried.” “Na, ya done good! Go on up and look around. You’re gonna love it.” It’s an amazing piece of stagecraft. Theatrical and gritty. A wonderful combination of authentic realism, multidimensional and artful. And terrific detail with tons of props and set dressing keeping “Properties Mistress” Sarah Ross busy. And then there’s the George Washington Bridge majestic, hovering over the neighborhood. I ask Jesse: “Are you happy?” “I’m great.” Lou Ann Cates, Paramount Theatre’s Tech Director, comes out into the house beaming her smile, “Hi, Jim.” That’s a very good sign. I turn as Broadway Series Tech Director Jason Pikscher approaches, a mix of pride and exhaustion. The responsibility of this set, it’s delivery and installation, was on him and he and his crew expertly executed the task in record time. He’s smiling like, “It was nuthin’.” I smile back and without a word between us, I hug him.
Got that bounce back in my step! Out the lobby doors into the gleaming sunshine flooding Galena Boulevard, the flower pots and hanging baskets swollen, bloated with late summer blooms, gorgeous, fat with color. I gotta get back and prepare for a meeting in the morning with Set Designer Linda Buchanan and Sarah on props for MISS SAIGON. And that’s after our monthly PAC Staff Meeting. Lots of good things to report!
“Til next time, thanks!