In the Heights -- Theater Review



The large and talented national touring show of the Tony-winning "In the Heights" provides a brightly colored, relentlessly energetic and singable musical soap opera about the Dominican-American community of Washington Heights, in northern Manhattan. It is a celebration of immigrant, ethnic life as seen through a vivid Technicolor, love-happy, multilingual lens. It also is homogenized to please a large audience, but it has enough truth to make people believe.

"Heights" pays homage to "West Side Story," but it has a unique personality all its own that it leaves to the performers to deliver with conviction and authenticity. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the hero; he created the concept, wrote the music and lyrics and stars with great charisma and an arsenal of acting and singing skills as the emotionally sensitive bodega owner Usnavi. The heroine is Quiara Alegria Hudes, who wrote the book.

It's a team effort in which everyone, incredibly, could be a star.

As a bundle of beauty and sass, ready for whatever life has to offer, Sabrina Sloan flaunts a Latin Barbra Streisand attitude and an exciting soprano voice. As the young daughter conflicted about romance, Arielle Jacobs shows a gentle voice when she sings and an unusually thoughtful sense of timing and reserve when she acts; when she laughs, she breathes compassion and understanding into the play. Elise Santora as the neighborhood's beloved Abuela Claudia shows that grande dames can flash the energy of youth. Genny Lis Padilla has never met a song she couldn't belt out with showstopping sexuality; and Isabel Santiago, Padilla's beauty salon partner-in-crime, combines dumb-blonde laughs with surprising in-your-face delights.

Jose-Luis Lopez signals the thrills to come with his opening entrance as the resident spray-can bandit. Rogelio Douglas Jr., as Jacobs' hapless suitor, sings sweetly and moves with ballroom elegance. Danny Bolero and Natalie Toro play Jacobs' sitcom parents, lured by dreams of the bourgeoisie, as if they already have a cable slot guaranteed. David Baida shows loads of stage presence and a lovely tenor voice pushing a fruit-ice cart. Shaun Taylor-Corbett as Usnavi's irrepressible, rascally nephew nearly steals the show from time to time.

The pit band drives the show with lots of energy and brassy class, but they sure could use some fiddles, a cello and a bass. Electronics can only do so much.

Venue: Pantages Theatre (Through July 25)
Cast: Lin-Manuel Miranda, Elise Santora, Sabrina Sloan, Arielle Jacobs, Rogelio Douglas Jr., Danny Bolero, Natalie Toro, Shaun Taylor-Corbett, Genny Lis Padilla, Isabel Santiago, David Baida, Jose-Luis Lopez
Music-lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book: Quiara Alegria Hudes
Director: Thomas Kail
Choreographer: Andy Blankenbuehler
Music director: Alex Lacamoire
Set designer: Anna Louizos
Costume designer: Paul Tazewell
Lighting designer: Howell Binkley