BWW REVIEW: IN THE HEIGHTS Exudes Hot Caribbean Flair
Flags of the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and Mexico adorn the balconies and railings of the barrio in Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2008 musical In The Heights. The show, which won the Tony that year for Best Musical, brings a Hispanic flair to the Benedum stage through the accents, language, and styles of dances, uncommonly seen by a Pittsburgh audience as part of the Pittsburgh CLO's 2017 summer season.
The story follows multiple smaller plot lines; Usnavi (Joshua Grosso) attempting to keep his convenience store open and impress Vanessa (Stephanie Klemons), Kevin and Camila Rosario (Rick Negron and Blanca Camacho) struggling to operate their limousine business while paying for their daughter Nina's (Genny Lis Padilla) tuition, and a city block wondering who bought the $96,000 winning lottery ticket.
The stage represents one street in Washington Heights, New York City, but the design seeks simplicity in the subtleties. As the action unfolds at the corner store, hair salon, or even in the dining room, only a desk or chairs are brought out to signify the change in scene. This is especially well executed when a club scene uses a lighting change to transport audiences into the vibrant young nightlife.
Dancing is hot, hot, hot, not only in the nightclub, but also on the streets throughout the show. The Latin hip-hop and modern styles take center stage and keep the energy chaotically up for the entire show. Grace and prim are replaced with sharp arm choreography, body rolls, and spins that made me dizzy!
Hip hop-inspired language is also carried over to the music, which has Caribbean rhythms and combines quick to-the-tongue rap with more classic Broadway archetypes. A mix of English and Spanish, but mostly English, is used throughout the dialogue and lyrics, which helps to create a more realistic Heights experience. It's no wonder this groundbreaking show won the Tony almost a decade ago.
The female leads undoubtedly carry the show. Vanessa, Nina, and Abuela Claudia (Patricia Phillips) each have powerful voices of their own merit. The younger two, Ms. Klemons and Ms. Lis Padilla nail many of the ballads and belts, accentuating the Miranda's score. A little bit unexpected from her initial moments on stage, the humble Ms. Phillips delivers a powerful performance of "Paciencia Y Fe" that makes you instantly fall in love with her, as if you weren't already in love with the adorable grandma of the block.
In addition to some weaker vocals on the male side, there also runs the risk of a language barrier in the show. With some high school Spanish under your belt, you should be able to understand most of the dialogue that occurs on stage, but lacking this education could make some jokes a little inaccessible, but not damage the plot as a whole.
Even if the entire show were conceived and written in Spanish and you could understand none of the language, there would still be beauty in the work of Miranda. In the Heights brings diversity to the summer season at the Pittsburgh CLO and provides an immersive experience with the staging at the Benedum. Cool off with this hot classic for the rest of the week only!
To see or not to see score: 7/9; Recommended Show
Photo Credit: Archie Carpenter