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Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Marriott Theatre

The new production at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire is In The Heights. The music and lyrics are by Lin-Manuel Miranda (pre-Hamilton) and the book is by Quiara Alegria Hudes.  Washington Heights in New York City is the setting. This is a story about hope, love but mostly family. Director James Vasquez has crafted an explosive, colorful and exhilarating production. The choreography by William Carlos Angulo leaves the audience breathless and wanting more. The orchestra under the direction of Noah Landis showcases Miranda’s mix of music genres to perfection.  This cast headed by Joseph Morales (Usnavi) shows how a close community actually is family. They love each other. They care for each other. If there is a problem personally or professionally, they are there to help. They all have dreams.  Usnavi owns a bodega. His cousin, Sonny (Jordan Arrendondo), helps with the store and he has a crush on Vanessa (Paola V. Hernandez in her Marriott debut). Vanessa dreams of finding an apartment away from the Heights.  Usnavi wants to return the Dominican Republic, the island of his roots. His friend Benny, (Yasir Muhammad) wants a promotion. The women who run the salon, Daniela (scene stealing Lillian Castillo), Vanessa and Carla (Michelle Lauto) are always wanting to hear gossip. Daniela has to move her salon from the Heights to the Bronx because of rent increase. On this hot July 3, Nina (Addie Morales), has returned from her first year at Stanford. The community is thrilled to see her. Her father and mother, Kevin and Camilla (Rudy Martinez and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel both in their Marriott debut) are so proud of her accomplishments. Nina reveals to her parents she has lost her scholarship. At the same time, Nina’s parents are seeking an emergency loan to keep their taxi service in business. Benny, who is hoping for a promotion, helps on the dispatch for the first time. Then there is the “matriarch” of the neighborhood. Abuela Claudia (Chrissy Guerrero evoking every emotion). She has raised Usnavi since his parents died and still lives with him. She is the center for the people of the community. Kevin decides to sell the business to pay for Nina’s tuition. This means Benny is now out of a job. No one is happy. The young people go to a dance club. The tension is tight in the club. During one dance, the power goes out. Because of the power outage, Usnavi’s bodega has been looted. Abuela Claudia convinces Usnavi to get rid of the bodega. Nina and Benny have spent the night together while her parents have been searching for her. When she arrives home with Benny, her father tells Benny he will never be a part of their family. There is so much fighting that Camila tells the family it’s time to come together before it’s too late. The heat and power outage continue so the neighbors decide for one last celebration before the bodega, the salon and dispatch close their doors. During the celebration, it is announced that there has been a death in the community. The neighbors unite to hold a vigil. Usnavi, Benny, and Daniela are preparing to move on with their lives away from the Heights. The next morning as Usnavi prepares to close his bodega with Sonny’s help, he realizes this block in the Heights is where his roots are. This is where he will stay. Home.

The production covers all our emotions. There is also a reference to the late, great Chita Rivera which is a moment of great applause. This talented cast is pouring out their heart and soul in telling this story. Miranda’s family still lives in the Heights. This is his homage to his family and the neighbors who became family. If this is your neighborhood, embrace it. We should all be lucky to have a place like this to call home. Marriott has created that place. Go see this with your family and your friends. You will be glad you did.