Celebrating community: Marriott Theatre’s exuberant ‘In the Heights’ soars
“In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s affectionate portrait of New York City’s Washington Heights in an ebullient revival at Marriott Theatre, commences with a neighborhood tour.
Our guide is Usnavi (the artlessly endearing Joseph Morales), a genial bodega owner who, in the musical’s jubilant opening number, introduces us to the folks who call the neighborhood home.
“We live with just enough,” he says, referring to residents who — in response to increasing rent and declining fortunes — are considering leaving their beloved community.
Propelled by Miranda’s salsa-, hip-hop- and pop-infused score and hip-smart lyrics, “In the Heights” takes place on a sweltering Fourth of July weekend and unfolds as a series of vignettes.
Usnavi runs his late parents’ store alongside his teenage cousin Sonny (a perfectly puckish Jordan Arredondo). Frustrated by a faulty fridge and his failed pursuit of hair stylist Vanessa (Paola V. Hernandez), he longs to return to his native Dominican Republic accompanied by grandmotherly Abuela Claudia (Crissy Guerrero), the neighborhood’s beating heart and keeper of its legacy.
Vanessa, desperate to escape the barrio, has her eye on a downtown studio. But her bad credit puts the apartment out of reach. Also preparing to move their shop to the more affordable Bronx is gossip-loving salon owner Daniela and fellow stylist Carla (keen comic turns from Lillian Castillo and Michelle Lauto respectively).
Usnavi’s pal Benny (Yasir Muhammad) hopes for a promotion at the car and limo service owned by the father of his former classmate and would-be girlfriend Nina (Addie Morales). What Benny doesn’t know is that Kevin (Rudy Martinez) intends to sell the struggling business, over the objections of his wife, Camila (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel).
Meanwhile their daughter Nina, the neighborhood’s pride and joy, has returned from a disappointing freshman year at Stanford University to inform her parents that she lost her scholarship and dropped out of school.
None of these mini-melodramas get more than cursory attention from book writer Quiara Alegria Hudes. And while I wouldn’t describe this as a particularly deep musical, there are moments bordering on the profound. Case in point: the heat-related blackout that concludes Act I. Tensions rise and violence erupts. Friends and loved ones lose each other, lose their way. Then — aided by iPhone flashlights — they find each other again. It’s a rather poignant statement on the comfort a community can provide.
That doesn’t change the fact that “In the Heights” is an overly long, overstuffed show. (Even Andres J. DeLeon’s street vendor gets his own number.) A song accompanies nearly every scene, which means there are too many songs and too many scenes.
But Miranda’s salute to the Latino community is so joyous and so sincere and director James Vasquez and his dynamic cast express its sentiment so beautifully, I don’t imagine audiences will object.
Not when they’re treated to full-throated showstoppers like “$96,000” and “Carnaval del Barrio”; the sassy ode to gossip that is “No Me Diga”; and the infectious titular number. And not when they’re dazzled by William Carlos Angulo’s shoulder-rollin’, hip-shakin’ choreography. Bravo to him for the magnificent moves and kudos to his ensemble for delivering one of this production’s great pleasures.
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“In the Heights"