Lin-Manuel Miranda in In the Heights (Photo by Joan Marcus.)
In the Heights is distinguished by being the first Latin hip-hop musical to make it on Broadway. After a successful off-Broadway run last year, the producers of the show, which is set in the shadows of the
To me, In the Heights is more of an entertainment than a conventional Broadway musical; an affectionate valentine to a community under siege of commercialization, urban renewal and an increasingly transient population. Unfortunately, the shows creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who wrote the music and lyrics and also stars in the show, and his book writer, Quiara Alegría Hudes, have chosen to hang their narrative on a weak premise filled with predictable, old fashioned situations. In other words, In the Heights, as pleasant as it is, is no musical masterpiece. For that you must travel to
What has occurred with In the Heights is an all-too-common fault in todays musical theater: the shows book does not strongly support the story, which takes place over a hot Fourth of July holiday, that the creators are attempting to tell. With In the Heights, this problem is amplified by excess doses of sentiment and cliché that ring false and keep pushing the shows narrative away from the musicals serious concerns, such as the precarious plight of the neighborhoods citizens, into a slough of saccharinity.
Yet, despite these serious handicaps, creator Mirandas autobiographical tale surprisingly has its jubilant moments, especially when In the Heights is singing Mr. Mirandas infectious songs and dancing the exuberant salsa beat choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler. It is then we get to see what Mr. Miranda set out to do: celebrate his old neighborhood roots. He also has been helped enormously by his designers: the Heights neighborhood has been beautifully and meticulously reproduced by set designer Anna Louizos; colorfully costumed by Paul Tazewell; and given atmospheric lighting by Howell Binkley.
Mr. Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, began writing the show while a student at
One area in which Mr. Miranda and director Thomas Kail have struck gold is with the cast probably the most talented ensemble on Broadway. Mr. Miranda plays the musicals lead, Usnavi, the Dominicano owner of the local deli, who is joined by a variety of neighborhood denizens: Vanessa (Karen Olivo), a beauty parlor owner hoping to upscale by moving out; Nina (Mandy Gonzalez), who left the Heights for Stanford, only to be forced to return; Benny (Christopher Jackson) who helps run a car service with Ninas parents; Kevin (Carlos Gomez) and Camila (Priscilla Lopez); and Sonny (Robin De Jesus), the neighborhood spray can Michelangelo.
The kind of enthusiasm In the Heights has engendered is admirable and good for the theater; if theatergoers enjoy themselves at one show, they are more eager to purchase tickets to another.
I only wish Mr. Miranda and his fellow collaborators had crafted In the Heights more skillfully. Although the show has some touching moments, I wish they were held together by a story that had some teeth instead of just nostalgia.
Bernard Carragher lives in
West 44th Street
for Patti LuPone in Gypsy.