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January 09, 2011
January 16, 1980
February 14, 2008
An exuberant, animated shrine to the importance of family ties and being faithful to where you come from."— Ben Brantley, The New York Times
Written By: David Patrick Stearns , September 13, 2013
In the Heights, which opened Wednesday at the Walnut Street Theatre, reminds you what theatrical alchemy is supposed to be.
Any Broadway-oriented audience won't know many people like the show's spirited Latino population, living in northern Manhattan's Washington Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda's well-wrought music is familiar from car radios passing on the street. Laugh lines are lost on those not up on urban patois.
Yet you feel you're with family. The unguarded Latino manner, the informational value of rap music with character expositions, and the general aura of cultural authenticity remove any distance one might have with these characters, who live full, in-the-moment lives despite their financial migraines.
It helps that, along with the music, the direction (Bruce Lumpkin), choreography (Michelle Gaudette), and book (by West Philly native Quiara Alegria Hudes) all conspire to carry the story forward effortlessly.
The plot revolves around a girl who was supposed to make good on a Stanford scholarship, but has come home in disgrace. Small-business owners are having to leave because of encroaching debt and higher rents. A power blackout upends everyone's lives. Just as disruptive is a winning lottery ticket: Good fortune is strange in these parts.
The theatrical sureness of Act I unravels slightly in Act II: Mechanics so artfully hidden previously become more apparent as loose ends are tied up. But in musicals, you always have to take something on faith. And you probably wouldn't notice if the rest of the show didn't feel so true.
As in the Broadway original, sets artfully suggest a transplanted street in Washington Heights. Equally laudable are actors who don't seem to be acting, just living, without the gap that can appear when actors have to give life to characters about whose circumstances they know little.
The plot's central couple, played by Rhett George and Julia Hunter, have the well-limned features of fashion models, but scrupulously maintain their place in the ensemble. In the central role of Usnavi, the bodega owner, Perry Young has the eyes and brow of lifelong dissatisfaction, while his would-be girlfriend (Gizel Jimenez) displays the hair and makeup of someone attempting to fix her insides by sprucing up her outsides.
The beauty-shop owner, Donnie Hammond, is particularly lovable, balancing her truth-telling function in the plot with unconditional benevolence. You could leave envying these lives.
Written By: Howard Shapiro , September 13, 2013
The high-voltage production of the musical “In the Heights,” opening Walnut Street Theatre’s 205th season, is a supersonic trick: It lifts you from your seat in Center City and transports you smack onto the northern tip of Manhattan.
There, in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, you’re in Washington Heights.
This is not the currently gentrified Washington Heights, but the neighborhood just as it was beginning to become a hot property. It’s the hardscrabble, largely Latino Washington Heights, a tight-knit, hand-to-mouth community -- a culture that has fit, not always comfortably, into a larger one, changing both. The residents have their everyday fears, their community triumphs and disasters, and an underlying pressure that percolates all day like the popular coffee at a corner bodega owned by a character named Usnavi, whose family left the Dominican Republic for an American life.
Usnavi (pronounced Oos-NAHV-ee, and played with verve and hard-boiled charm by Perry Young) is the focal point of “In the Heights.” He seems very real to me. So does the neighborhood portrait painted by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s magnetizing score and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ nimble script. I know that the Pulitzer Prize-winning Hudes believes in the reality of that place; she grew up in such a community in West Philadelphia, where people have one another’s backs, and she has strong roots there, still.
From the first seconds of this “In the Heights,” I could tell that the Walnut was about to nail it, straight on. It takes no longer than a few breaths to be swept into the dancing the music inspires – a mix of Latin heat, hip-hop, rap, street moves, sidewalk macho, quick jumps and smooth juts, and also some traditional show choreography. Michelle Gaudette, who choreographs this golden production directed by Walnut veteran Bruce Lumpkin, wastes no time in announcing her agenda: This Washington Heights is a neighborhood defined by the way it moves.
That was true on Broadway and in the national tour, too, and the dancing Gaudette sets on this talented cast is just as infectious – I couldn’t help moving to the rhythm in my seat at the sight of it. Add to that the uniformly strong voices in a show largely laid out in song, and you’ve got a winner. Never mind that some of the Spanish accents are better than others; it’s a minor dent. And don’t expect to catch every single one of the lyrics, which move with the speed of an A-train at rush hour; you couldn’t do that on Broadway, either, and if you want to, you need the cast album.
But you’ll catch plenty, and you’ll never be left in the dark – unlike the cast members, when at one point New York is plummeted into a blackout. “We are powerless, we are powerless!” they sing, and the double meaning makes it one of the most desperate phrases in a modern American musical. (It debuted on Broadway in 2008 and won the best-musical Tony Award.)
The weakness of “In the Heights” is the way the story wraps itself up too neatly and too rapidly, and with unchecked sentimentality. But the Walnut production makes up for it with unbridled exuberance in every show-stopper and high-level craft in everything else, including Anna Louizos’ Washington Heights set, Ed Chapman’s crisp sound design, Paul Black’s evocative lighting and the music direction by Douglass G. Lutz.
This is a big-deal production, with a cast that throws itself into the moment: In addition to the winning Perry Young in the lead, Julia Hunter as the girl who’s gone off to college and returned; Kimberly S. Fairbanks and Danny Bolero as her parents and the owners of a car pickup service, and Rayanne Gonzales as the cherished abuela, the older woman who keeps traditional values in place. Rhett George plays the black non-Latino who may forever be an outsider; Gizel Jimenez is the girl who desperately wants to move downtown and Matthew J. Harris is a constant hip-hopping presence everyone knows. Ceasar F. Barajas, playing a spray painter, Carlos Lopez as the water-ice man, and two beauty-shop gals, Maria Konstantinidis and Donnie Hammond, also get their days in the hot Manhattan sun. Add another eight performers -- the dance ensemble – and the production’s complete.
“In the Heights” is the story of new roots, of becoming an American hybrid, of changing America’s national face. In that, it is a quintessential American musical. In the end – and this production shows it so well – we are anything but powerless.
It has been lamented in certain circles that they don’t make Broadway musical stars the way they used to. We’ll not see the likes of Ethel Merman again. Or Mary Martin or John Raitt. Or, for that matter, Patti LuPone or Mandy Patinkin.
C’mon everybody, let’s give a big, sad sigh.
Oh, let’s not. While the manufacture of matinee idols and worship-ready divas, not to mention the sturdy vehicles they rode to fame, may be in decline, the theater has not gone out of the star-making business entirely. If you stroll down to the Richard Rodgers Theater, where the spirited musical “In the Heights” opened on Sunday night, you’ll discover a singular new sensation, Lin-Manuel Miranda, commanding the spotlight as if he were born in the wings.
As you watch Mr. Miranda bound jubilantly across the stage, tossing out the rhymed verse currently known as rap like fistfuls of flowers, you might find yourself imagining that this young man is music personified — a sprightly new Harold Hill from the barrio, where this sweet if sentimental musical is set.
Mr. Miranda, as the owner of a corner bodega who dispenses good cheer along with café con leche by the gallon, is not just the brightly glowing star of “In the Heights.” He also wrote all the ebullient songs for this panoramic portrait of a New York neighborhood — Washington Heights — filled with Spanish-speaking dreamers of American dreams, nervously eyeing their futures from a city block on the cusp of change.
First seen Off Broadway last year, “In the Heights” moves uptown with its considerable assets confidently in place: a tuneful score enlivened by the dancing rhythms of salsa and Latin pop, sounds that are an ear-tickling novelty on Broadway; zesty choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler that seems to put invisible wings on the young cast’s neon-colored sneakers; and a stage amply stocked with appealing actors who season their performances with generous doses of sugar and spice.
Its fundamental deficiencies are also along for the ride, unfortunately. Conceived by Mr. Miranda, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, “In the Heights” consists of a series of vignettes that form a vivid but somewhat airbrushed mural of urban life. Directed by Thomas Kail, it is basically a salsa-flavored soap opera, and if there is an equivalent of schmaltz in Spanish, this musical is happily swimming in it.
Will Usnavi (Mr. Miranda) and his abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz) — his beloved grandmother in spirit if not in fact — achieve their goal of returning to the Dominican Republic? Will Nina (Mandy Gonzalez), the plucky neighborhood girl who made good, find the courage, or the money, to return to Stanford University after a shaky freshman year?
Will her adoring parents, Kevin (Carlos Gomez) and Camila (Priscilla Lopez), take the momentous step of selling their gypsy cab company so Nina can realize her goal? Can they come to accept Benny (Christopher Jackson), the upstanding but un-Latino young man who works for them, as their only daughter’s suitor?
I almost forgot the biggest nail-biter: Who is in possession of the winning lottery ticket Usnavi discovers he has sold?
Although you may lament the efficient but mechanical way these story lines are developed and resolved, staying tuned will be a pleasure if you have any affection for the bubbly or sultry sounds of Latin music.
Under the enthusiastic guidance of the music director, Alex Lacamoire, the orchestra — band is really a better word — plays with a sense of excitement almost never heard emanating from a Broadway pit. (The standard amplification is less flattening to this music than to traditional scores.) Bright, piping fanfares from the trumpets punctuate the dance numbers; the merry tinkle of a steel drum laughs along with the jokes. The players below seem to be having as much fun as the performers onstage.
That is saying plenty, for when this musical erupts in one of its expressions of collective joy, the energy it gives off could light up the George Washington Bridge for a year or two. The title song, for instance, is among the most galvanizing opening numbers in recent Broadway memory, as Usnavi gives the audience a guided tour, in briskly flowing rap, of the troubles that nip at the heels and the hopes that feed the imaginations of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. (The street is designed with impressive attention to the minutiae of urban decay by Anna Louizos.)
In addition to the aforementioned characters, there is Usnavi’s cocky 16-year-old cousin Sonny (the impishly funny Robin De Jesús), eager to give Usnavi tips on how to woo the girl he’s got a secret crush on. She is the ambitious Vanessa (Karen Olivo, all legs and voice), whose ardent wish is to move out of the barrio; unfortunately she’s got a mother draining her resources, and a serious credit problem. The vivacious Daniela (Andréa Burns, choicely tart), who owns the beauty salon where Vanessa works, is on the move whether she likes it or not. Priced out of the ’hood, she’s packing up her straighteners and moving to the Bronx.
Mr. Miranda’s most distinctive songs are the snazzier ones. The ballads can sound generic, and they are too often sung with throbbing ardor by someone standing in a spotlight, eyes aglow with hope or resolution. But even the musically bland selections are given a fresh gloss by the specific details of experience embedded in Mr. Miranda’s lyrics. When Nina and Benny sing a tender duet establishing their mutual feeling, she reminisces about the days “when the world was just a subway map, and the 1/9 train climbed a dotted line to my place.” Benny, his voice all honey and love, sings back, “There’s no 9 train now.”
As a performer, Mr. Miranda is anything but generic. Slight of build, with a wispy goatee, he does not fit any leading-man molds. But he is so naturally and vibrantly alive onstage that he brings an animating touch of urgency to even the more clichéd or predictable turns of the plot. He may be no real balladeer — he doesn’t sing much at all — but Usnavi’s long streams of rap riding a pulsating rhythm are the music that makes the whole neighborhood dance.
You could easily be cynical about the show’s heartfelt belief in the possibility of a little love and a big lottery win making all things right. But then Mr. Miranda bounces back onstage, throwing down rhymes and throwing his arms open wide as if to embrace the whole mezzanine. He seems to embody music’s ability to make the trite seem true again. And after all, this scrappy little musical about chasing your dreams and finding your true home is Mr. Miranda’s own dream come true. He couldn’t look more at home.
IN THE HEIGHTS
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda; book by Quiara Alegría Hudes; music and lyrics by Mr. Miranda; directed by Thomas Kail; choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler; music director, Alex Lacamoire; sets by Anna Louizos; costumes by Paul Tazewell; lighting by Howell Binkley; sound by Acme Sound Partners; company manager, Brig Berney; production stage manager, J. Philip Bassett . Presented by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sander Jacobs, Goodman/Grossman, Peter Fine and Everett/Skipper. At the Richard Rodgers Theater, 226 West 46th Street; 212-307-4100.. Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes.
WITH: Andréa Burns (Daniela), Janet Dacal (Carla), Robin de Jesús (Sonny), Carlos Gomez (Kevin), Mandy Gonzalez (Nina), Christopher Jackson (Benny), Priscilla Lopez (Camila), Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Usnavi), Karen Olivo (Vanessa) and Seth Stewart (Graffiti Pete).
Written By: Josh Young
Over the past decade it's taken more and more for a musical to really make an impact on me. I like to leave the theater changed, moved, or having learned something about myself or the human condition—especially if I'm paying $150. I enjoy watching wonderful actors and great choreography, but I've started to have a strong aversion to shows with songs that don't forward the plot. A show that does not fall into that category is "In the Heights," the best show I've seen since "Ragtime."
I had just finished my first year as a company member at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival; between seasons I stopped in NYC to see this show I'd been hearing so much about. It was closing on Broadway, and my friend Chris Jackson was rejoining the cast along with the creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda. I expected to be entertained as I had been by every recent show I'd seen on Broadway. However, I had a very rare experience—I was inspired.
Inspiration! Please give me inspiration every time I see a Broadway show. It happened when I saw my first Broadway show ("The Who's Tommy"), "Ragtime," and "Les Miz" on tour in Philadelphia at the Forrest Theatre. That feeling has been evading me too often recently. But, sitting in the Richard Rodgers Theater that day in 2011, I was blown away.
I knew nothing about Miranda or the masterpiece he had created. I'd been out of the country during most of the time it was being developed. I love knowing how a great show comes to be, and the story of "In the Heights" is as good as it gets. Miranda wrote the first version during his sophomore year in college. From 1999 to 2008, the show was revised and presented in different forms at the National Music Theater Conference and Off-Broadway at 37 Arts Theater. What I saw, with music and lyrics by Miranda and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, was a piece of art perfected over nine years, and all the hard worked showed. It was so effective and affective.
The opening number did what it was supposed to do. It drew me to the edge of my seat and didn't let me go. It said, "Here is the world we're in, and here are the people you are going to love." That first sequence was the definition of compelling, and every song afterwards had a reason. Each element had direction and an objective. There was no song or dance combination simply there "for show." Each clever lyric told you where you were; each lighting cue told you, "This is the story we're telling" and each set piece said, "Let us transport you." The dancing was infectious.
When I first moved to NYC, I lived right next to the A train stop at 181st Street, which is featured in the set. Living west of Broadway, I was privy to the wealth and breadth of Latin culture only when walking daily to the neighborhood Big Gym. I felt so alien to the vitality, musicality, and richness of that community. I so wanted to know what it was all about, and I love that "In the Heights" gave me a slice of that life. I know the life of Usnavi—Miranda's character—is fictional, but unique as it is, I feel that in our melting pot society, we can all relate to it. That's what makes this work so important and wonderful. I feel blessed to currently be working with the lighting and costume designers from that show (Howell Binkley and Paul Tazewell) in the Stratford production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," now in previews at the Neil Simon Theatre.
Josh Young has spent two seasons at the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. He originated the role of Judas in the Stratford production of "Jesus Christ Superstar," which later played the La Jolla Playhouse and is in previews on Broadway. Other Stratford credits include "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Evita." He has toured nationally in "Les Misérables" and internationally in "West Side Story." His new album, "Still Dreaming of Paradise," is available at iTunes.
Vocal Range of Characters:
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- IN THE HEIGHTS - Rehearsal Set
- 2 – Piano Vocal Score
- 20 – Libretto-Vocal Book
- Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Reed - Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Trumpet - Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Trombone - Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Keyboard 2 - Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Guitar - Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Bass-Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Drums - Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Percussion-Tour Orchestration
- 1 – Keyboard/Conductor
- IN THE HEIGHTS - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Reed 1 - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Reed 2 - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Trumpet 1 - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – In The Heights - Broadway - Trumpet 2
- 1 – Trombone 1 - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Trombone 2 - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – In The Heights - Broadway - Keyboard 2
- 1 – Keyboard 1/Piano Conductor - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Bass - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Drums - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Keyboard 2 - Broadway Orchestration
- 1 – Guitar - Boadway Orchestration
- 2 – Percussion - Broadway Orchestration
- IN THE HEIGHTS - Libretto-Vocal 10-Pack
- IN THE HEIGHTS - Pre-Production Pack
- 1 – Libretto-Vocal Book
- 1 – Piano Vocal Score
- In The Heights Flat Bundle
- 1 – Flat Banners
- 1 – Flat Facebook Tabs
- 1 – Flat Poster
- 1 – Flat Print
- In The Heights Layered Bundle
- 1 – Layered Banners
- 1 – Layered Poster
- 1 – Layered Print
- 1 – Layered Facebook Tabs
Usnavi owner of De La Vegas Bodega
Sonny Usnavis younger cousin; works at bodega
Nina Rosario freshman at Stanford University; daughter of Kevin and Camilia Rosario
Kevin Rosario Ninas father; owner of Rosarios Car and Limousine
Camila Rosario Ninas mother; co-owner of Rosarios Car and Limousine
Benny Usnavis friend; works at Rosarios Car and Limousine; African American
Abuela Claudia raised Usnavi and Sonny
Daniela owner of Danielas Salon
Carla hairdresser at Danielas Salon
Vanessa Usnavis love interest; works at salon
Piragua Guy local piragua vendor
Graffiti Pete local graffiti artist
Ensemble residents of Washington Heights
IN THE HEIGHTS takes place in Washington Heights, New York City during 3 days in July.
The hair salon
Rosario's Car & Limousine
Around the neighborhood
A fire escape
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