The familiar set of New York brownstones, this time in the barrio of Manhattan’s Washington Heights, with flats upstairs above storefronts below is popular with musical producers. As in those other shows, the cast also got a lot of mileage out of the balconies, which set the scene for romance and other business.
“In the Heights” may be especially appealing to those patrons who are fluent in Spanish. The language sets the stage, through song and some dialogue, for a story about Latino immigrants trying to make their home and find their dreams in America, not unlike the Puerto Rican cast in “West Side Story.” And the hot, Latin dancing and songs were reminiscent of Chita Rivera’s, and then Rita Moreno’s, in “America.”
If rap and hip-hop are not your taste, this show may not be for you. But many of the vocals make it worth waiting through the tedium. “Breathe,” performed by the exceptional voice of Virginia Cavaliera, as Nina, is worth the price of admission. Viewers of this year’s Tony Awards got a taste of this mellow ballad, which will probably be the hallmark of “In the Heights,” as is “Seasons of Love” to “Rent.”
Abuela (grandmother) Claudia, performed brilliantly by Christina Aranda, had one of the best numbers in the show. The very young actor was entirely convincing as the older, gray and frail grandmother. But Abuela belted out “Paciencia y Fe” (patience and faith) like her life depended on it.
Also noteworthy is Tauren Hagans as Daniela. Her hot salsa was steamy. Celina Clarich Polanco was maternal and loving as Camilla, a mother torn between her daughter’s needs and what the girl’s father is willing to do to meet them. Played by Benjamin Perez, the father was passionate about giving his daughter an education, even if it meant selling his own business.
Lin-Manuel Miranda originally created “In the Heights” while he was a student at Wesleyan University, and the show was a hit on campus. He collaborated with director Thomas Kail to rework the show for a larger audience.
Once the team attracted the attention of producers Jill Furman, Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller, who had produced “Rent,” “Avenue Q” and “The Drowsy Chaperone” on Broadway, the show went to the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in Connecticut, then Off-Broadway at the 37 Arts Theatre until it closed in 2007. While at those venues, it received critical acclaim, and earned an Outer Critics’ Circle Award and Lucille Lortel Award for Best Musical.
On Broadway, “In the Heights” garnered five Tony Awards in 2008, including best original musical and best original score.
In 2009, its writers received the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Between 2008 and 2011, the show had 1,184 performances
The original Broadway cast included such well-known stars as Taye Diggs, Jesse L. Martin, and Idina Menzel, which speaks to the Tony-worthy production.
“In the Heights” will play through Sunday, March 25 at AT&T PAC. For details and ticket information, visit attpac.org.