Broadway and Spoken Word?

By : Georgeara Castañeda

The magic of Broadway is created by the talent and hard work poured into every performance. What would a Broadway musical be without ballads for dramatics and showtunes [or pop] for lightheartedness? Laredo Theater Guild International’s newest production, In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda of Hamilton fame, fuses the trademark characteristics of a musical with the contagious and fast-paced style of Latin music.

These performances can be known as slam poetry (poetry performed in a competition setting) or spoken word (poetry written simply to be performed). Both utilize the fluidity of speaking and mesh it with the dramatics of live performance. Renowned for their rhythmic interpretations and meaningful lyrics, the style of spoken word has made an iconic entrance into Broadway in Lin-Manuel Miranda’sIn the Heights.

In the Heights is part of the rapidly contemporizing scene of Broadway. It introduces the audience to the more popularized music forms of the past decade with the Latin backdrop of the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York City. The allure of the atypical lyrical performance lies in its modern ties and its connection to the Latin culture. Salsa, merengue, soul music, and hip-hop are performed alongside ballads and pop numbers.

The lead role of In the Heights is Usnavi, his character captures the familiar aspects of Broadway, but adds his own Latin flair through his performances that parallel the dramatics and structure of spoken word.

Lin-Manuel Miranda embodied Usnavi in the original Broadway company; in Laredo Theater Guild International’s In the Heights, the incomparable figure of Usnavi is played by a Laredo native well-versed in theater and slam poetry. Chibbi Orduña brings to life Usnavi but grants him his personal flair – Usnavi becomes more than an echo of Lin Manuel Miranda’s thoughts, he is an avenue for Chibbi to engage with his own identity and return to his roots in theater and slam poetry.

Having worked with LTGI before, Chibbi immediately had his hopes locked on the potential of playing Usnavi. The role was the ideal intersection between his cultural identity and previous work in theater.

And the spoken word aspect?

Just another creative tidbit that sets this musical apart from its predecessors.

However, slam poetry was a more recent discovery for Chibbi. He began his lyrical performances twelve years ago during his time as a college student at the University of Texas. Much like theater audiences accustomed with the typical lyrical structure of musicals, Chibbi was utterly surprised by this form of poem-based live performance when he stumbled into a poetry slam.

The genre of spoken word and the realm of musicals have their differences. With the weeks of rehearsal already, Chibbi sees In the Heights as unlike anything he has done before. The dance numbers and the smatterings of rhythm and poetry place In the Heights on a contemporary frontier for musicals.

Integrating spoken word into In the Heights has allowed for lengthier lyrical scores – in other words, you can say more in the same amount of time as a ballad. But the importance of rhythm and poetry does not end there, the contemporary genres have created an avenue to bring showtunes to radio stations and aid the popularization of musical soundtracks.

With fast-paced performances being cohesively meshed with slower tunes, it creates an entirely new narrative without losing the music genres deeply rooted in Broadway. In the Heights has paved the way for more contemporary musicals, but it has also formed a scene that shows the unspoken stories that can easily echo the lives of the fellow Laredoens.

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