“In the Heights,” a Tony Award-Winning Musical with Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, opens Westport Country Playhouse’s season with Latin fireworks.
The show pertains to a Hispanic community located in the upper Manhattan called, “Washington Heights,” an area that became known for crime and violence. However, unlike “West Side Story,” which according to the program notes influenced Miranda, the subject matter of his vignettes are not as serious or violent.
This is because Miranda’s work is focused on the aspirations and the changes that take place in most immigrants’ lives such as the compromises to be made, and the nostalgia over what was left behind in the old country. However, most folks tend to remember only the good things. Therefore, a little graffiti, the aftermath of a looted store, a jealous lover’s fight scene, even the death of the community’s beloved Abuela (grandmother) have less impact on the overall “story” of life in the musical than in “West Side Story.” There is no strong message and there doesn’t have to be in order to be simply entertained.
Having grown up in the Bronx and in Manhattan, I’m familiar with the changing neighborhoods and the fact that German Jews occupied Washington Heights prior to the Hispanics. We visited friends there and like many Holocaust survivors, they managed to achieve their dreams and move on too. While “Chinatown” and “Little Italy” have remained more or less intact for many generations, Harlem is changing and other sections of New York City now contain mixed residential areas. As people learn to mingle peacefully and take pride in their city, everyone gets to enjoy a mixture of flavors and colors.
The Spanish speaking population of “In the Heights” is spiced with the flavors of various South American countries however, culture clashes and prejudices are depicted here too. Miranda’s rhyming-rap may appear to be a new form of theatrical narration, and yet, the words are so cleverly put together, they remind us of Shakespeare’s couplets. The dance-styles incorporated by Director/Choreographer, Marco Santana are: hip-hop, salsa, meringue, cha-cha and mambo. “Carnival del Barrio,” is just one of many hot, hip-swinging numbers, while Music Director, Daniel Green knows exactly how to keep the exciting, Latin rhythms of his full orchestra going.
Rodolfo Soto is outstanding as the fast-talking rapper/narrator, “Usnavi,” who is in love with the Nina Negron, the fiery “Vanessa.” Blanca Camacho is “Abuela Claudia.” Camacho, who was also in the original cast, gives a soulful performance in “Hundreds of Stories.” Didi Romero, the rebellious “Nina,” and
her staunch lover “Benny,” tenderly combine in “When the Sun Goes Down.” Doreen Montalvo and Tony Chiroldes as Nina’s overpowering parents (both original cast members) render moving solos. Ms. Montalvo in “Enough” and Mr. Chiroldes in “Atencion.” Sandra Marante is the colorful beauty parlor hairdresser, “Daniela,” Amanda Robles is her friend “Carla,” and Paul Aguirre is the “Piragua Guy.”
This is a full-scale production and the entire creative team deserves credit for making “In the Heights,” one of Westport Country Playhouse’s best productions!
Extended through May 19. Tickets: 203 227 4177