This first issue begins in the near future, the year 2030 to be precise, which we learn is the warmest year on record. Of course that is something that has been on our minds quite a bit lately. Earlier this week, in fact, news was made when July 4th became Earth’s hottest day on record. The book takes us quickly from 2030 to 2065, by which point floods have taken away much of the coastal lands, and to 2090 when fires have created a dangerous air quality. The story takes place in 2131 in New York City, where only a few people remain, and we are introduced to the characters in an opening song, “Life Goes On And On.” In this song we learn just how bad things are, but yet discover there is still hope. That song title is interesting, because there is both hope in it (“life goes on”), but also an undeniable weariness (“on and on”). As the character Ezra (played by Doug Eskew) sings, “We’ve gathered here together ‘cause we’re stronger as a group.” This group is pretty diverse, of various ages and ethnicities, and so there is something positive in that as well, a new civilization beginning with such a group. Would we require a catastrophe to bring us together like that? By the way, the music is accessed by a code located next to each song title in the comic book, or simply by visiting the Higher Ground website. As I understand it, a CD containing the songs will be released once all four issues of the book are out, or perhaps after the first two issues.
The second song, “A Better Place,” is sung by Carter (played by Emily Bautista), the daughter of the group’s leader. Here she decides to leave the community, to find something better. It is something that all (or most) teenagers do at some point, and so this shows that this group, though having gone through some extreme events, still has normal desires and drives. And the song is hopeful as well, as she sings, “I know I’m going to a better place.” Of course, soon after she sings this number, we learn that she has been saying she was going to leave since she was nine years old, which puts a different spin on what we’ve just heard. Interestingly, the third song, “Another Drink,” is one that was included on Peter Galperin’s Tomorrow Seems Like Yesterday. The version here is, of course, different, sung by the character Ezra, along with Lucas (Steven Eng), Sage (Brennyn Lark) and Carter. And some of the lyrics have been changed. For example, the lines “And did you hear the news today/The same old cries and lies indeed/But as long as you’re around/I’ve got all that I need” become “Did you hear that today’s the day/That we honor the distant past/As if that’ll make everything all right/There’s nothing here that’s gonna last.” Interestingly, though those lines are in the song, they are not in the book. And some of the dialogue from the book is included. Ezra’s line “Memories…They comfort until they hurt” is particularly good.
The fourth song, “Freedom,” is sung by Quinn (N’Kenge), Raines (Jeremy Kushnier), Mallory (Kennedy Caughell), Lucas and Ezra, and it features some delicious percussion. At one point in this one, Quinn sings, “The world’s a mess but here we’re safe and sound.” There’s something appealing in that, isn’t there? Something we crave even now, our own personal haven in this often violent and twisted society. The next song, “Not Like You,” gets into the father/daughter relationship of Raines and Carter. Soon after that we learn the group is no longer safe where they are, that water levels are rising again, and Raines wants to keep that information secret in order to avoid a panic (hmm, that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Raines says, “Nobody wants to hear facts.” This may take place in the future, but it makes clear that politicians just don’t change. The final song of this first issue is “Hey, What More Could I Do,” which is sung by Raines and Mallory. It explores this question of the people deserving to hear the truth. I have been focusing on the songs, obviously, but I also want to mention that this comic book features some absolutely wonderful and striking artwork.
Higher Ground: The Musical, Volume 1: The Last Of The Mannahattas was released on April 19, 2023.