Theater Review: ‘Heights’ hits right note
Infused with hip-hop rhyme and Latin rhythm, “In the Heights” is “muy excitante.”
During its three-year run on Broadway, the show earned two Drama Desk Awards in 2007, four Tony Awards including Best Musical, a Grammy Award for Best Show Album in 2008, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009.
It’s a musical hybrid featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s rhyme-spitting lyrics and orchestral blend of reggaetone, rhythm and blues, Latin ballads and Afro-Cuban jazz sounds (conducted by Kurt Crowley), topped with Andy Blankenbuehler’s award-winning dance choreography of salsa, meringue and pop and lock.
Set in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, it’s a story about members of a Latino neighborhood trying to make it in America.
Perry Young is the backbone of the musical as Usnavi, a corner bodega (store) operator and narrator/emcee of the show. His performance is supported by a top-rate ensemble and other standout lead cast members including: Christina Aranda as the loving and elderly neighborhood matriarch, Abuela Claudia; Kyle Carter’s soulful vocals as Rosario’s Car Service dispatcher and non-Spanish-speaker, Benny; Presilah Nunez as Usnavi’s love interest, the modelesque Vanessa; and Benjamin Perez as an insecure yet self-righteous father-figure, Kevin Rosario.
Equally compelling is Virginia Cavaliere as Nina, the Rosario family’s cutesy, good-girl daughter and fish out of water as a first-generation college student attending Stanford University.
Notable numbers include “Alabanza” (Praise) – a somber, heartfelt number mourning the passing of the neighborhood’s beloved Abuela Claudia; “96,000” – a high-energy, rap-heavy depiction of what each member of the barrio would do if they won $96,000 in the lottery; and the expertly harmonized, all-female, gossip session number, “No Mi Diga” (Don’t Tell Me) featuring Nunez, Cavaliere, Tauren Hagans as local hair salon owner Daniela and Katherine Brady as salon employee Carla.
Adding to the show’s set – a highly realistic urban landscape of corner shops, brownstones and New York subway entrances created by Anna Louizos – are hyperactive lighting effects by Howell Binkley.
Although loosely comparable to musical hits of the past including “West Side Story,” “Fiddler on the Roof” and even “Rent,” the distinct take of “Heights” on the importance of community within the confines of a “hip-hop generation” puts it in a Broadway category all its own.
“In the Heights” was reviewed from Friday night’s performance.