BWW Reviews: IN THE HEIGHTS Hits the Heights at Broadway San Jose thru April 22
Wow! What a night at Broadway San Jose’s production of In The Heights. Winner of four 2008 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, the cast of In The Heights rapped, hip-hopped and merengue’d their way through Pulitzer Prizewwinning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes’ immigrant tale of angst, hope, community and love – and, in the process, danced their way into the hearts of the audience. Playing now through April 22, In The Heights embodies the next generation of American Musical Theatre and it soars.
The show was conceived in the heart and soul of composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was homesick for his Washington Heights, Manhattan neighborhood, and poured all of that pining into song and the first glimmers of a story. What emerged was a rich and dynamic salsa-infused, slice-of-life tale about a modern immigrant community on the cusp of change. Who will stay? Who will go? Whose dreams will thrive and how will the neighborhood survive the gentrification that is slowly beginning to take place?
Hodges and Hodges were there to take it all in and report back to you about In The Heights.
Right off the top, what grabbed you, Nick?
What grabbed me off the top and throughout the show was set designer Anna Luizos’ Washington Heights cityscape. It looked as if they had literally taken part of Washington Heights and placed it on stage. The detail of the bodega (corner store), Rosario's Car Service, and the hair and nail salon, were amazing. Each shop had its own special style and uniqueness to it.
Loizos colorfully captured the ethnic flavor of the ‘hood down to the spray painted metal gate pull-downs (courtesy of Graffiti Pete, played by the talented Roddy Kennedy). Looming in the background is the iconic George Washington Bridge - the way in…and out of the neighborhood.
The show starts with Usnavi (Perry Young), the young Dominican who owns the corner store bodega. It’s where the local shop owners, workers and residents come to get their morning coffees, newspapers and lottery tickets. I thought that Young did a fantastic job in all his numbers. He has a lot of hip hop and rapping to do in this show and he annunciated everything and was easy to understand. The whole cast’s annunciation is especially important for this show because it does have hip hop and rap; styles of music that many theatre goers aren’t familiar with and they did a great job.
It was an explosion of new sensations to hear rap grafted onto the musical theatre genre. And really, it’s a style that seems tailor-made for the theatre. Music Supervisor Alex Lacamoire won the Tony for “Heights” and he certainly deserved it. The show is a mix of musical styles and it is absolutely daring in its unique composition. What a treat!
I like the way that playwright Hudes wove the character’s individual stories together to paint such a vivid portrait of a modern immigrant experience. Usnavi sees himself returning to his native Dominican Republic, fed by dreams that his Abuela Claudia (the amazing Christina Aranda) has shared with him all his life. He’s in love with the gorgeous and perhaps unattainable Vanessa (Presilah Nunez) who is desperately trying to find a way out of the neighborhood and her job at the salon. Besides, it looks like the salon is going to be sold anyway. And then there are the Rosarios.
Yes, Kevin and Camila Rosario (Benjamin Perez and Celina Clarich Polanco), who own the cab company, are doing their best to pay for their daughter Nina’s Stanford education. When Nina (Virginia Calaliere) comes home to tell them that she’s lost her scholarship they are heartbroken. They want so much for their daughter to succeed. Perez is absolutely sublime as the father who vows to do more to make their American dream come true. “I will not be the reason that my family can't succeed,” he sings. “I will do what it takes/They'll have everything they need.” I’m sure a lot of parents can relate to that.