I’d like to introduce to you all to the LEGENDARY Lin Manuel-Miranda, and one of his greatest, yet unknown, creations: 21 Chump Street. By now, many people may know Lin Manuel-Miranda for his groundbreaking Broadway production of Hamilton the Musical (which of course I will be talking about later), the Moana soundtrack, or maybe even In the Heights; but not many people, even devoted fans, know of this gem.
21 Chump Street is the perfect start for anyone who isn’t normally interested in musical theatre. For starters, it’s only fifteen minutes long.
Yes, you read that right, fifteen minutes.
It’s the shortest musical ever, consisting of five songs bounded by a minor amount of dialogue. But I know what you’re thinking, you don’t like musical theatre because of the cheesy music, even if it is only five songs. So, still not interested? What if I told you there was weed involved.
Now you’re listening? Great!
The plot of this musical is not only based on a real story (with 70% of the dialogue verbatim), but it’s so relatable, for different people and in different ways.
The story follows Justin Laboy, a straight-A high school student who is lovestruck by Naomi Rodriguez, the “light-skinned, Puerto Rican Dominican” transfer student with “a body like whoa.” What he doesn’t know is that “Naomi” is not actually Naomi, nor is she a high school transfer student; she is one of many under-cover officers investigating drug sales at various high schools in Palm Beach County, Florida.
Without revealing the whole plot (seriously it’s only fifteen minutes, I even provided a link!) I’ll give you a brief rundown so you have the gist.
Justin is head-over-heels claiming he’ll do anything for this girl. When she says that means getting her weed, something completely put of his element, he does (not easily) so. By giving her the weed, in school, in exchange for money, Justin is now considered a drug dealer and is just one of 30 other students taken down by these undercover cops. A great student’s life was now ruined.
The charming Anthony Ramos, who plays Justin, is a theatrical genius. He’ll have the audience laughing at (or with) him through his cheesy dance moves, while still belting out the notes with his exquisite and enticing voice. His portrayal of Justin as an ironically quirky yet confident teen makes the character relatable and so lovable.
Many people can empathize with Justin being completely smitten for someone and wanting to do anything just to be with them. We root for him to get the girl because most people know that feeling! He’s blinded by love and extremely naive which results in his poor decision and pitfall.
While it’s clear that Justin is at fault, Lin-Manuel Miranda elicits Justin’s pain and regret through the melodic cues, which is something that even if you have no experience in music, can still be picked up on. The tonal change evokes the audiences empathy and a (mostly) unifying hatred for Naomi is born.
No matter your thoughts on the music, or the stage setting, I can guarantee that at the end of that fifteen minutes you’re going to be feeling all of those feelings too. The pain for Justin, who was just seeking true love, and the hatred for Naomi, who could’ve probably put her focus on a real threat, someone more criminal. You’ll feel heartbroken for Justin who’s thrown a good life away over one girl. You may even empathize with either character and consider some events in your own life.
But I promise. One thing you won’t question is “what the heck did you do-oo.”