BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Unites the Community at Pike Performing Arts Center
Drawing from ethnic flavors of Latin music and the modern, 21st-century popular styles of rap and hip-hop, IN THE HEIGHTS, by Lin-Manuel Miranda and directed by Karin Stratton, tells the story of a close-knit group of friends in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan. The community is a mix of ethnicities like Puerto Rican, Haitian, and Dominican, but all share the commonality of struggling to obtain the American dream.
All the action takes place on a well-conceived set designed by Katie Bredehoeft. The 'hood' consists of businesses, such as De La Vega Bodega (convenience store), Daniela's Beauty Salon, and Rosario's Car Service as well as other apartment buildings. For a high school performance, the set was an excellent example of vignettes that form a vivid mural of urban life.
There's Usnavi (played by Zion Simpson) who is a first-generation Dominican-American bodega owner who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republican someday and Nina (played by Miyah Johnson) who is home for the summer after a year at Stanford. Along with their friends and family, they show us the irreplaceable importance of community.
The opening number, "In the Heights," sets the exposition with Usnavi rapping about his life in Washington Heights while also introducing the rest of the characters. Impeccably on beat, Simpson's high energy was refreshing to see and his vocals certainly captivated the audience not only in this song, but throughout the entire show.
Another standout for us was Johnson who shined during songs "Breathe" and "When You're Home." Nina's relationship with Benny (played by Cartier Stewart) was so well developed and the chemistry between both actors doesn't go unnoticed - every scene with them was beautifully acted.
As for the choreography, the ensemble sings and dances with dazzling energy, and every cast member was stellar right down to the chorus. We found that the show really finds its life source and strength in the movement of the dancers who are in almost constant motion. Nicholas Owens choreographed the show and was able to accurately present some solid, realistic urban Latino dancing to some serious beats supplied by the wonderful pit orchestra. The musical is bursting with character in a bold and modern hip-hop/Latino style. It is easy to hear Miranda's unique voice in virtually every number as his precursor to HAMILTON makes our blood pump to a Hispanic beat.
If you want to experience a unique, breakthrough, theatrical production, go to IN THE HEIGHTS at The Pike Performing Arts Center, playing November 10th and 11th at 7p.m. each night.