BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Ends the Summer on a High at Broadway At Music Circus
In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's love letter to the New York neighborhood in which he grew up, is finally at Broadway at Music Circus after a summer of anticipation. The first draft was written in 1999, when he was a sophomore at Wesleyan University. After being accepted by the student theatre company, it was seen by four people who decided it was worth a further look-one of them being Thomas Kail, who went on to direct both In the Heights and Hamilton. After opening on Broadway in 2008, In the Heights took home four Tony Awards out of thirteen nominations and solidified Miranda's place on Broadway.
In the Heights centers around the neighborhood of Washington Heights-a barrio of Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Cuban families who are struggling to make ends meet and navigate the day-to-day challenges of being an immigrant. It highlights the young, urban experience and the tug-of-war that occurs between tradition and progress-can the up-and-coming generation marry the two? In the nostalgically Sesame Street-like set, the De La Vega Bodega is the hub of activity and information. It's run by Usnavi (an infectiously joyful, kind, and very special Rodolfo Soto, who is also a Lin-Manuel Miranda soundalike), who is struggling to keep ahead of vandalism and bills and get out of the barrio. He's assisted in the bodega by his cousin, Sonny (a hilariously outspoken favorite, David Merino), who is lazy, inept, and completely charming. In the opening title number, Usnavi introduces us to the rest of the cast: Abuela Claudia, who raised him (Rayanne Gonzales' giant voice is shocking when it first comes out of her tiny, aged character); Daniela and Carla, who operate the neighborhood salon (Sandra Marante's Daniela comes with a trifecta of sass, jokes, and serious singing); and Kevin and Camila, who own the local cab company. Their daughter, Nina, is the pride of Washington Heights-her hard work has landed her a scholarship to Stanford. Rounding out the cast of characters is Vanessa, Usnavi's love interest who longs to make it out of the Heights, and Benny, an employee of the cab company who has been harboring feelings for Nina.
You have to see the show to experience the true intricacies of the relationships and feel what the actors emote when they're telling the story of the immigrant. There is no adequate way to describe the goosebumps that covered my flesh when Abuela finished singing about her life in "Paciencia y Fe." Her journey from Cuba made me think of what my own grandmother experienced in her journey to America from Korea. Displaced by war and circumstance, how does one even begin to recreate a life in a land far from what you've ever known? Nina's (Didi Romero) tearjerker, "Everything I Know," is a testament to the inner fortitude of immigrants and the impetus that keeps them going-a better life for their offspring. The show is not all seriousness, though, and in addition to appreciating the complexities of Lin-Manuel Miranda's score, the upbeat numbers bring dazzling choreography with hip-hop and a soulful mix of Latin sounds. "Carnaval del Barrio," "In the Heights," and "96,000" highlighted the fun to be had in what has to be the most dancing neighborhood in America.
Broadway at Music Circus has, again, surpassed every expectation. From the staging to the clever use of the exits to the incredible orchestra, they have made this end-of-summer run one to remember. I am counting down the days to the next season....right around 285 days, in fact.
Tickets for In the Heights start at $45, and are available by phone at (916) 557-1999, online at BroadwaySacramento.com, or in person at the Wells Fargo Pavilion Box Office, 1419 H Street in Sacramento. Evening performances are Tuesday through Saturday, Aug. 20-24, at 7:30 p.m.; matinee performances are Thursday, Aug. 22 and Saturday, Aug. 24 at 2:00 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 25 at 3:00 p.m. For more information, visit BroadwaySacramento.com.
Photo credit: Charr Crail