In the Heights
By Lin-Manuel Miranda
Director Nick DeGruccio
Musical Director Josh Ceballos
Choreography by Kim Ball
Starring Ernie Pruneda, Iliana Garcia, and Zachary Infante
Who knew Shakespeare could breakdance? Before “Hamilton”, Lin-Manuel Miranda popped out this stunning freshman project. Set in the barrio of New York, it follows the loves, lives and marginal business that keep the area alive and vibrant, even if it’s filled with trash and graffiti. Usnavi (Pruneda) runs a small bodega famous for its coffee and Lotto tickets. Across the street, Kevin Rosario (Juan Cantú) dispatched cars to Manhattan, and he makes all his drivers wear white shirts a tie no matter how bad their A/C might be. Not everyone gets a W2 in this show; Sonny hustles and break dances until Usnavi sort of hires him, then Kevin’s bright daughter Nina (Garcia) drops out of college. It’s not that she can’t handle the classes, she just can’t eat without three jobs. If only some money would fall from the sky…that would fix everything…
Or maybe not. This isn’t about money so much as it is about community and neighbors helping neighbors. Sure, this is gosh darn tootin’ uncommon in the real world, but then that’s not why we come to musical theater, is it? And we have a no-miss cast here; highlights include Abuela Claudia (Alina Alcántara) leading her big production number “Paciencia Y Fe.” The interplay between Usnavi and his sidekick and cousin Sonny (Zack Infante) provides a good dose of the humor, and Nina’s mom Camila (Lisa Castaneda) gives us the sad “Everything I Know.” The misfit romance lies between Nina and her dad’s assistant Benny (Deon’te Goodman); here we see that any immigrant group can hold its head high as long as there’s another group in the area they can look down on. It’s the romance that cheers you tonight, but the dancing will get you on your feet.
Backing this massive production, we hear a nine-artist orchestra well versed in Spanish pop tunes and classic hip hop. The dancers do flips, kicks and even one nearly complete head spin. Silhouettes of the Manhattan skyline ring the space, and we all cheer at the end. I suspect racism will never go away, but this reprise of Miranda’s opening salvo her in the Margeson does give us some faith in humanity. If you took Spanish in high school, you’ll be fine with the dialog as the cast tries to keep it in English. But if not, well, look at this as remedial training.