Much and all due respect to the gent who did “Hamilton” and that “In the Heights” New York tuner that opened back in June.
But “Summertime” is the musical of this summer. It bounces and tickles and touches and shares the credit, the rhymes and the love among some 22 poets, rappers and singers.
This LA “musical” with rap and slam poetry, dance and mariachi and folk-pop is the “Slacker” of musicals — borrowing its storytelling style from Richard Linklater’s groundbreaking indie comedy. The camera starts on one person in one setting, and attention is handed off, scene to scene, character to character, with some folks returning for a second or third helping in a different setting.
That makes it tightly-choreographed, no matter how loose and liberating and freestyling its performers get. “Summertime” saunters out of the gate, works up to a trot, and takes a bit of a breather in the third act. It’s still brimming over with street life and the occasional laugh.
Mila Cuda skates and plays the guitar in an intro set at the Venice Breakwater, where “all the winged dreams around me scribble footnotes in our city’s story.”
A prissy, hyper-critical video essayist, food, architecture and urban culture critic (Tyris Winter) launches into a tirade for the ages at an overpriced eatery that wants $15 for an over-decorated slice of toast. This life of the party shows up again and again in the film, lamenting changing storefronts — “The colonizer has given us…blouses!” and bemoaning the lack of cheeseburgers in the diet, dining pretension and avocado toast capital of the world.
A graffiti “artist,” a Korean 20something cook, a side hustling street vendor turned limo driver and a feuding couple whose therapist prescribes her book, “How to Rap Battle Her Demons” all get their say. And our opening serenader (Cuda) returns to shut down a bus rider who complains about same sex public displays of affection.
“I’m gay as a wool flannel on a summer day…gay like grandma ‘doesn’t get it’…gay like too-short fingernails!”
Amaya Blankenship and Bene’t Benton and others swap definitions in “Home Is,” as in “Home is the only salon that I know in this city is closing,” the only place (Blankenship complains) that can be trusted with “braiding me armor every morning.”
Rappers (Bryce Banks, Austin Antoine) try and succeed in getting themselves discovered, a Rodriguez sound-like serenades a lovelorn lady on a train, a Latina teen bickers with her “Lady Macbeth” mother over lipstick, one and all spitting “that emotional fire” in each other’s and the city’s faces.
As I say, “Summertime” gets a little gassed by the third act. There’s such a thing as “performative poseur” fatigue, and rappers and slam poets push that button even as they push the envelope.
But the energy, humor and wit of the early scenes carry it. And the pathos of the later scenes, along with a burger joint break down and the fun in discovering the secret to any rapper’s success as a novelty act (rapping about “my mom”) make even the slow jams go down easy, leaving a warm, fuzzy afterglow that makes LA seem nicer and maybe a trifle less superficial than its image.
MPA Rating: R for language throughout and sexual referencesCast: Tyris Winter, Anna Osuna, Amaya Blankenship, Bryce Banks, Austin Antoine, Gordon Ip,
Bene’t Benton, Mila Cuda, Maia Mayor, Sun Park, others
Credits: Directed by Carlos López Estrada, script by Paolina Acuña-González, Jason Alvarez and Austin Antoine.