BWW Review: Energetic and Passionate Spanish Adaptation of IN THE HEIGHTS Makes Its U.S. Premiere At GALA Hispanic Theatre
Despite having previously seen two productions of IN THE HEIGHTS, I was extremely excited to see this particular adaptation. As a Cuban-American and fluent Spanish-speaker, I already felt highly connected to the musical with its strong roots in Hispanic culture, and seeing the U.S. premiere of a Spanish-language adaptation seemed almost necessary. It truly did not disappoint. With a dynamic cast, memorable songs, and an intimate setting, GALA Hispanic Theater's Spanish-language adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS gave a louder voice to a musical treasure that continues to stress the importance of family, whoever that may be, but also being proud of who you are.
As the electric opening number, I was immediately transported to the streets of Washington Heights. The production still retained some of the English lyrics, even if the production was mostly in Spanish. I felt that this was a smart choice, not only for the character of Benny (Vaughn Ryan Midder), who does not speak Spanish, but to also still appeal to a wider range of audiences as the original production did. The Spanish phrases sometimes got lost to me among the rapid delivery of lyrics in the songs, but as I sang along in English and referred to the English and Spanish subtitles that played throughout the production on screens, I was constantly reminded of how a story of making a better life for oneself transcends all languages. The actors handled the tricky shifts between English and Spanish almost flawlessly, especially Juan Luis Espinal (Usnavi), who's energy and charisma throughout the production reminded me of Lin-Manuel Miranda's portrayal of Usnavi that I have seen in YouTube videos.
While the energy of the entire cast was certainly a highlight of the performance, especially in numbers like 96,000 and Carnaval del Barrio, Michelle Ríos gives a standout performance as Abuela Claudia. While reminding me of my own grandmother when she told me stories about Cuba, she serves as a perfect symbol of grandparents or even parents that immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, especially in her powerful rendition of Paciencia y Fé. She exudes an aura of nostalgia throughout the production, which made me both laugh and cry at her interactions with the rest of the cast. For this reason, Everything I Know, poignantly performed by Laura Lebrón as Nina, evoked serious emotions from me.
Of course, the immigrant story is ever-present throughout the production, punctuated by emotional numbers such as Inútil and Breathe, which are beautifully performed by José Capellan (Kevin) and Lebrón, respectively. Even with this Spanish adaptation, however, the lyrics and actors still portray common feelings of hopelessness and loss, which then bring the show full circle to a renewed hope for the future despite loss, which is especially evident in all the sacrifices that Kevin (Capellán) and Camila (Shadia Fairuz) make for their daughter, Nina. These feelings are also portrayed through the Latin-infused music and lyrics, with some of the more catchy songs remaining in my head even after I left the theater.
My favorite number by far was Carnaval del Barrio, not only for its music or Scheherazade Quiroga's saucy portrayal of Daniela, but for the feeling of pride it evokes in one's heritage. It falls in line with what was said in the talkback I attended with the cast and director after the show: the musical, and especially this Spanish adaptation, is meant for audience members to feel proud of where they come from and not to apologize for it. The whole cast did a fantastic job in portraying those sentiments as they sang lyrics of raising your country's flag for the world to see. With a highly diverse cast, with individuals from Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain, and Peru, to name a few, it was evident how proud they were in participating in this production and specifically in this number.
Despite some lines of Spanish being a little unclear as a cause of their rapid delivery, GALA's Spanish adaptation of IN THE HEIGHTS is truly a must-see. The set design, music, and electric cast of the production are not to be missed. Just be prepared to laugh, cry, possibly dance in your seat, and alzar la bandera (raise your flag).
Running Time: 2 hours with one ten-minute intermission
IN THE HEIGHTS is now playing at GALA Hispanic Theater - 3333 14th Street NW, Washington, D.C. - until May 21, 2017. Tickets can be purchased here or by calling the box office at 202-234-7174.
Photo Credit: Rose Campiglia; courtesy of GALA Hispanic Theatre