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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  NY Theater Reviews

 
IN THE HEIGHTS
at the Richard Rodgers

MOVING ON UP
By Mervyn Rothstein

  Robin De Jesus and Lin Manuel-Miranda

Whether or not you ever venture north of 96th Street, you should definitely take a trip to West 46th Street and the Richard Rodgers Theater. Once there, you will be transported, via the classic Broadway vehicles of music, lyrics, dance and drama to a joyously pulsating block- West 183rd Street. to be precise- in Washington Heights, a largely Latino community (Dominican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Mexican) in northern Manhattan.

In the Heights will reward you with an effervescent and infectious fusion of hip hop and Latin themes and smart and inventive lyrics-all the creation of an immensely talented 28-year old Broadway newcomer named Lin-Manuel Miranda. They are accompanied by sexy and rousing Caribbean -themed choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler . And it's performed by an attractive and superb cast- led by Miranda, who also conceived the show. The Latino rhythms, the lithe and powerfully graceful dancers, can tempt the audience to get up in the aisles and shake their bodies, as the performers do theirs- though who would want to leave their seats when there's so much to watch onstage? It's a show that, amid its sometimes happy, somewhat bittersweet story, is an evening of pure fun.

The musical takes place over three very hot days in July. On the block is a Dominican bodega owned by a young man named Usnavi (played by Miranda-and just wait until you find out the origin of his name) a car service owned by a husband and wife whose daughter Nina, is the first in her family to go to college- Stanford no less and a unisex hair salon that is leaving and moving to the Bronx because the rent has become too high. Next door to the deli lives Abuela Claudia, who has raised Usnavi even though she isn't really his grandmother. There's a blackout, some looting, a troubled Nina, an ingenious use of cell phones, a $96,000 lottery winner, a death and, of course, romance.

Behind it all is a serious premise. A lot of the show comes out of the theme of home and what we define as a home, Miranda, who was raised in upper Manhattan by Puerto Rican-born parents- and who began thinking about the musical while he was sitting in an undergraduate astronomy class at Wesleyan University in Connecticut- said recently in an interview for Playbill Magazine. It's especially a struggle for those of us who were born here and have parents who speak nostalgically of where they came from. What do we take with us? What traditions do we pass on to our kids?"

The musical's theme, he said, is even more relevant as a neighborhood changes, and becomes gentrified. When he was growing up, he recalled, he could go with his grandmother, who spoke no English, to any store-she has never, in fact, had to learn English. Now, though, he said, in that same neighborhood, there's a pilates center.

Yes, it's a serious theme. But in truth, In the Heights is as much about pure entertainment as it is about serious themes-the joy of song and dance matters as much as the celebration of ones heritage.

That exuberance has come to Broadway with a distinguished history. The libretto is by Quiara Alegria Hudes, whose play Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize last year-and to whom Miranda attributes a large share of the credit for the show's success. In the Heights was chosen as the best musical of 2007 by New York Magazine, and Miranda won the Richard Rodgers New Horizons Award from ASCAP. Blankenbuehler and director Thomas Kail, won Joseph A. Callaway Awards from the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Blankenbuehler also took home Drama Desk, Lucille Lortel and Outer Critics Circle prizes for choreography. And the cast sang and danced their way to the Drama Desk's prize for outstanding ensemble.

Nonetheless, all those kudos were for a<

 


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