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"In the Heights" - Review

**** Highly Recommended  

In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s exhilarating tribute to Washington Heights is wowing audiences at the Marriott Theatre. Miranda’s clever, complicated lyrical cadence, a definite precursor to Hamilton, is combined with vibrant salsa and hip hop rhythms. Add in a brilliant cast who make complicated choreography look easy, and you’ll have a hit! I was dancing in my seat! Hurry and get your tickets, you’ll be dancing too! 4 BIG Spotlights

In the Heights follows in the footsteps of contemporary ensemble musicals like West Side Story, Grease and Footloose – where exuberant young people trying to find their way within the strictures/traditions of their neighborhood, school or town.

Usnavi De La Vega (Joseph Morales) – whose parents named him after the first words they saw after arriving in America, U.S. Navy – owns a neighborhood bodega/deli in Washington Heights, the highest point on Manhattan Island.  Most mornings, everyone on the street drops in for coffee, a newspaper or a soda. Usnavi’s opening song, In the Heights, which will definitely remind you of Hamilton’s opener, introduces everyone to his neighborhood.

Usnavi lives with Abuela Claudia (Crissy Guerrero), the neighborhood matriarch who more or less raised him after his parents died. His cousin Sonny (Jordan Arredondo) helps out in the store and generally makes a pest of himself.

Usnavi is hung up on Vanessa (Paola V. Hernández) who works at the beauty salon. She lives with her alcoholic mother who often drinks up the money set aside for necessities like rent and utilities. She is desperate to get her own apartment. Her job may be in jeopardy too, because the salon is closing and moving to Brooklyn because Daniela (Lillian Castillo) can no longer afford the rent.

Kevin (Rudy Martinez) and Camila Rosario (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel), have run a taxi/limousine company ever since they got married. Benny (Yasir Muhammad), a young black man who has worked at the car service for years, is saving to open his own business.

This particular morning, Nina Rosario (Addie Morales) arrives home from Stanford, but instead of finding her parents, she hugs everyone else in the neighborhood, but confesses to Abuela that she feels she’s failed her parents. When she does go to the taxi company, she and Benny have a little fun with the two-way radio.

Eventually, Kevin and Camila come home bragging on their brilliant daughter. They’re shocked when she confessed that she dropped out of school when she lost her scholarship to Stanford because she was working too much. When Kevin finds out that Nina was working two jobs instead of studying, he decides to sell the business, infuriating his wife. Although Camila’s always told Benny he was family, Kevin fires him anyway.    

Late in the afternoon, Usnavi discovers that someone has bought a winning lottery ticket at his bodega. No one knows who it is, but everyone sings 96,000 with Usnavi and Benny. When Usnavi gets home Abuela admits she won the lottery, handing him a bag filled with money, telling him to guard it with his life.

That night, when all the young people in the Heights are at a club dancing, there’s a power failure, which causes chaos and looting. Vanessa is upset because no one helped her get home. Nina spent the night with Benny which made her parents frantic with worry. In the morning, Usnavi finds his bodega was trashed by looters, but he’s not worried because Abuela told him he and Sonny would each get a third of the money.

Meanwhile, Usnavi finds that Abuela passed away during the night. The entire neighborhood comes together to mourn.

In the Heights was conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the music and lyrics.  Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote the book. This production is directed by James Vásquez and choreographed by William Carolos Angulo.