With the closure of our beloved theatre venues, musical fans have been lucky enough to watch many of their favourite shows online, for free, over the lockdown period as countless companies have treated us to previously unreleased recordings. One of these is 21 Chump Street, a 15-minute musical written by Hamilton‘s own very talented genius Lin-Manuel Miranda.
With inspiration taken from an episode of This American Life, and based on a true story, 21 Chump Street follows honours student Justin as he falls in love with an undercover police officer who has been sent in to teach the students a lesson on buying and selling drugs on the school premises. A boy who was on his way to college with a future ahead of him soon finds himself a convicted felon simply because he sourced some weed to impress a girl. While the story is simple, it is narrated in a funny, entertaining but equally depressing performance as Miranda uses the magic of music to pinpoint the pains and struggles of drug use in schools.
The cast features Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos alongside Broadway stars Lindsay Mendez, Alex Boniello, Gerard Canonico and Antwaun Holley. Miranda himself also takes on the role of the narrator. And each actor brings their very all to their performance, adding personality, depth and development to their characters despite the short length they are contending with. In particular, Mendez stands out in her role as Naomi Rodriguez, the undercover police woman. Despite her duty to her job, she finds herself caring for the relationships she builds in the school, and the friendships she makes. She brings an emotional layer to her character that is truly touching and heartbreaking to watch.
For those of us who have had the Hamilton soundtrack in their heads since its release on Disney+, fear not – 21 Chump Street’s musical hits are equally as addictive. Characteristically Lin-Manuel Miranda in style with the rapping and singing that creates a bouncy atmosphere, the five songs that span the fifteen minutes have the energy and the power of a full-blown musical. Trust me, you will find yourself singing these songs in the shower, on the way to work, every second of the day.
As for the staging, while simple in nature with minimal props, the actors have fun with it, impressively using the small space to bring the level of crazy fun you crave from a musical. Tightly choreographed and fast-paced, the moves and the timing of the actors is simply stunning to watch.
21 Chump Street is a musical that will make you smile and make you laugh. It will make you want to get up and move those feet in time with the actors. But, at the same time, it will leave you with a lump in your throat. Giddy but bittersweet, it’s a must-watch for anyone who is a big fan of musicals and heart-breaking, breathtaking stories. So, next time you find yourself with a spare 15 minutes on your hands, why not watch this masterpiece?
Words by Lucy Lillystone.
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