BWW Reviews: Go IN THE HEIGHTS For a Unique Musical Experience & Journey of Spirit

BWW Reviews: Go IN THE HEIGHTS For a Unique Musical Experience & Journey of Spirit

In The Heights, now playing at the Hobby Center, is an energetic portrayal of the residents of a New York City barrio whose dreams are seemingly bigger than their means.  Once they learn to put their trust in each other, they find the ability to achieve their goals and that much of what they desire is closer than they think.  This energetic production is perfect for anyone looking for something a little different and an ideal way to introduce a younger generation to musical theatre. 

The show's foundation is a lively, modern score showcasing significant sections of rap and a sustained Latin influence.  Smoothly interchanging between Spanish and English, the score challenges conceptions of traditional musical theatre but will undoubtedly hit home with a younger audience.  The fast flying rhythmic lyrics are highly entertaining if you have a good enough ear to catch the deluge of detail and the distinctive mix of rap with strong melodic sections is a testament to composer Lin-Manuel Miranda's creative talents.

In The Heights follows the trials the residents of an Upper Manhattan street corner in Washington Heights during the hot summer months.  Mostly occupied by first and second generation Americans from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, their tight-knit community dreams of winning the lottery until one of them strikes lucky.  Facing financial struggles in every home, this is a neighborhood on the brink of change but unwilling to let struggles defeat their dreams or diminish their preservation of tradition and family.

Inviting the audience into the Heights is bodega owner Usnavi charmingly played by 2009 Carnegie Mellon graduate Kyle Beltran.  Beltran's adorable expression of puppy love easily wins the audience over to this underdog's side as he tries endlessly to gain the attention of neighboring hairstylist Vanessa, played by American Idol alum Sabrina Sloan.

Ever present by Usnavi's side is his 16-year-old cousin, Sonny, portrayed by Shaun Taylor-Corbett (Discovery Kids' series "Hi-5" and original Broadway ensemble for In The Heights).  Taylor-Corbett and Beltran have impressive "brotherly" chemistry and their escapades in the barrio are delightful. 

Arielle Jacobs (who originated the role of Gabriella in the staged versions of Disney's High School Musical 1 and 2) shines as the bubbly Nina.  As an inspiration for the entire neighborhood as the "one who's made it out", Nina struggles with the secret that she lost her scholarship and has dropped out of Stanford.  Jacobs delivers a moving performance taking Nina through the journey of a nervous teen terrified to face her family's disappointment, to a strong women at the end of the summer now willing to face the world's hardships and to stand up against her father for the man she loves.  Jacobs also provides the show's emotional climax with a tear-jerking performance of "Everything I know" in memory of a fallen barrio resident.

As the neighborhood's gossip machine, Isabel Santiago portrays salon owner Daniela with never-ending comedic attitude.  Daniel Bolero (1993 revival of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, In the Heights Broadway ensemble), who plays Nina's father Kevin, also provides a strong performance depicting the story of a father's complete devotion to his family.

Before last night I had never seen In The Heights, but I had listened to the Original Broadway Cast recording numerous times.  I was surprised by how much the action on stage added to the lyrics, and this comedic partnership between score and direction keeps the show moving and more engaging than I anticipated.  There was never a moment where I felt overwhelmed by the Spanish or that I was missing something as the foreign lyrics passed by.   If you've previously listened to this unique score and were left apathetic, I urge you to give this production a try. 

The energy of the talented cast is never-ending, and the display of spirit within the residents of the Heights will make you wish you could visit their barrio.  If you go In The Heights with an open mind and are willing to try something a little different, this show will take you on a rewarding journey full of hardship, love and leaps of faith.

In The Heights opened on Broadway March 9, 2008 after an acclaimed off-Broadway production with nine Drama Desk Awards nominations and two wins.  The show was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won four including Best Musical and Best Original Score.

In The Heights is presented by Broadway Across America and runs at the Hobby Center through April 18.  Tickets are available at the Hobby Center Box Office, all Ticketmaster locations, by calling 800-982-ARTS (2787) or

Photo (C) Joan Marcus 2009

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