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PicksInSix Review: In The Heights - Marriott Theatre

Usnavi has a dream to escape, like everyone on his block in Washington Heights. And those few hot days in July play out in what is sure to be a blockbuster revival of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In The Heights” that looks and sounds as fresh and vibrant as ever at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. The strong sense of family unfolds in a neighborhood teeming with a celebratory spirit that is so inherently baked into this show it erupts again and again with uncontrollable passion and hopeful promise. Look no further than the rousing Act II “Carnaval del Barrio” which prompted a thunderous ovation and the waving of flags in the audience. Not the usual Wednesday opening night in Lincolnshire to be sure.

It is hard to believe that Miranda created what would become “In The Heights” twenty-five years ago when he was a sophomore in college. With thirteen 2008 Tony Award nominations and four wins including Best Musical and Best Musical Score, there was no doubt that Broadway had welcomed a new force of nature—a playwright, composer, lyrist and performer whose talents speak for and to generations of performers of Latino decent—and just about everyone else on the planet, as well.

And that other revelatory musical by Miranda “Hamilton” would arrive little more than seven years later. And that other revelatory musical by Miranda “Hamilton” would arrive little more than seven years later.

Director James Vásquez has hit the mark and assembled an astounding cast around the gifted Joseph Morales as Usnavi, who essayed the role on the first Broadway national tour. Conceived by Miranda with a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Usnavi runs a bodega with his cousin Sonny (Jordan Arredondo) who is prodding Usnavi to take the next step with Vanessa (Paola V. Hernández). When Vanessa’s best friend Nina (Addie Morales) returns home and announces to her parents Camila (Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel) and Kevin (Rudy Martinez) that she lost her Stamford scholarship, Kevin makes the decision to sell the family business to fund her education. All that does not sit well with Nina or her mother and turns into a standoff with longtime employee Benny (Yasir Muhammad), who is Black and in love with Nina. Everyone in the neighborhood knows the score, too, as the delightful gadabout Daniela (Lillian Castillo) who runs the salon with Carla (Michelle Lauto), along with Sonny, begin to stir the pot to get everyone together.

Abuela Claudia (Crissy Guerro), a kindred spirit to Usnavi and everyone in the neighborhood, has a windfall that just might bring financial security to those around her. It’s an emotional roller coaster ride when the power goes out during the July 4th celebration and everyone “In The Heights” realizes that the most important thing in life is being there for each other. You will find yourself deliriously swept away by the music, directed by Ryan T. Nelson and conducted by Noah Landis, and the nonstop exuberance of William Carlo Angulo's choreography, of which one patron of a certain age said to me on the way out, “I wish I could bottle up that energy and take it home!”

I could not agree more.