Theater Reviews

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Richard Rodgers Theatre, New York
Runs indefinitely

There were more than a few doubts raised upon the announcement that the Latino-flavored musical "In the Heights" would be moving to Broadway, but they are immediately erased upon viewing its new incarnation at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.

The latest in a wave of musicals seeking to attract younger, more aware and more ethnically diverse audiences to the Great White Way, the show is a joyfully exuberant and moving experience that should have no trouble thriving once word-of-mouth kicks in.

Conceived by 28-year-old Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the score and plays one of the leading roles, the show has an unlikely setting: a Washington Heights neighborhood featuring such establishments as a bodega, a unisex hair salon and a car service operation. Depicting the lives and loves of a variety of Latino characters over a long, hot Fourth of July weekend, it bursts with a vitality that only seems more pronounced in its larger home.

The scene is set with the titular number, a rap ode to the neighborhood delivered by the bodega owner, Usnavi (Miranda). We are then quickly introduced to the disparate cast of characters, including Nina (Mandy Gonzalez), a 19-year-old who has just returned from her first year at Stanford; the neighborhood patriarch, Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz); Nina's loving if overprotective parents (Carlos Gomez, Priscilla Lopez); the gossipy salon owner, Daniela (Andrea Burns), and her financially strapped employee Vanessa (Karen Olivo); and Benny (Christopher Jackson), the car dispatcher who takes a shine to Nina.

Even the minor characters are given their due in the proceedings, such as the Piragua Guy (Eliseo Roman), who sings about providing the sweltering neighborhood with its icy treats, and Graffiti Pete (Seth Stewart), whose artwork proves unexpectedly moving in the show's final moments.

Quiara Alegria Hudes' entertaining book -- revolving around such plot elements as Nina's parents having to sell their business after she loses her college scholarship, or a winning lottery ticket that might provide the solution to several of the neighborhood inhabitants' problems -- has its formulaic aspects. But the generally amusing dialogue and engagingly drawn characters go a long way towards overcoming its cliches, and Thomas Kail's consistently clever staging smoothes over all the rough spots.

Miranda's excellent musical score, incorporating hip-hop (he proves to be a smooth-flowing rapper as well) and Latin elements, is consistently tuneful and fun, and Andy Blankenbuehler's sexy choreography adds to its impact. The undeniable highlight is the Act 1 finale, set in a dance club in which the ensemble gets to show off their sizzling moves only to be hilariously interrupted by a mock blackout.

The largely intact ensemble, composed of seasoned pros and talented newcomers, has only gotten better since last year's off-Broadway run, and Anna Louizos' striking neighborhood set design, dominated by a looming George Washington Bridge, fills the expansive stage.

IN THE HEIGHTS
Presented by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sander Jacobs, Goodman/Grossman, Peter Fine and Everett/Skipper
Credits:
Original concept/music-lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book: Quiara Alegria Hudes
Director: Thomas Kail
Set designer: Anna Louizos
Costume designer: Paul Tazewell
Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuehler
Lighting designer: Howell Binkley
Sound designer: Acme Sound Partners
Cast:
Usnavi: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Daniela: Andrea Burns
Carla: Janet Dacal
Sonny: Robin de Jesus
Kevin: Carlos Gomez
Nina: Mandy Gonzalez
Benny: Christopher Jackson
Camila: Priscilla Lopez
Abuela Claudia: Olga Merediz
Vanessa: Karen Olivo
Graffiti Pete: Seth Stewart
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