In the Heights – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

The Washington Heights section of New York City is being celebrated in all its ethnic diversity in the joyous musical “In the Heights” at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford until Sunday, July 29. Long before his “Hamilton” fame, this production that embraces our differences and appreciates community was penned while Lin-Manuel Miranda was still a student at Wesleyan University in 1999. Some describe it as “Our Town” with a heaping side order of spicy salsa.

The playwright builds on his heritage as a Puerto Rican- American and his skills as a lyricist, composer, actor and rapper to create an energetic ethnic neighborhood in the shadows of the George Washington Bridge. The book to the musical was written by Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Miranda wants audiences to be transported to the world he creates and walk away from the evening dancing.   The action lasts for three days, but his goal is to make the inspiring impact of his people to last long afterward. He wrote the piece about his experiences growing up Latino, where he spoke English in school and Spanish at home, spending summers working at a slushy ice machine helping his aunt.

Miranda created Usnavi who owns a bodega, a small corner grocery, as the show’s main character and narrator. He originally played the role himself. in this production, Niko Touros takes the honor, guiding the audience into his world, complete with his joys and frustrations. He introduces us to the woman who acts as his grandmother, Abuela Claudia, a nurturing Amy Jo Phillips, his impatient to grow up cousin Sonny who help him run the bodega, Nick Palazzo, his girlfriend to be Vanessa, a spirited Sophia Introna, who has yet to learn Usnavi’s hopes, as well as the Rosario family, dad JL Rey who rules the job and home, wife Stephanie Pope whose guidance is often needed and daughter Nina, the pride of the community, who is on a scholarship to Stanford, a shining Analise Rios, and their business’ employee Benny, a forward thinking Leyland Patrick, who has his eyes focused on Nina.

We also become friends with the beauty parlor queens Sandra Marante and Paige Buade, the area’s graffiti artist Paul Edme and the treasured ice man cometh at all hours Willie Marte. The ensemble also includes Gabrielle Baker, isiah Bostic, Jahlil Burke, Maya Cuevas, Jon Rodriguez and Olivia Ryan who all help to dance up a storm, courtesy of master choreographer Darlene Zoller.

The plot includes a winning lottery ticket guaranteed to change lives, a city power outage, some dreams, new loves, a death, choices and a ton of wonderful songs and wild dancing.

Sean Harris keeps the pace moving at a dizzying and happy pace.

For tickets ($35-50), call the Playhouse on Park, 233 Park Road, West Hartford at 860-523-5900, ext 10 or online at www.PlayhouseOnPark.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., followed by a talk back with the cast. No show on the 4th of July.

Don’t miss this adventure into the world of Lin-Manuel Miranda, in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan, where life spins at its own pace and community and family are everything.

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