Book by Quira Alegria Hudes
Directed by Thomas Kail
Musical Direction by Alex Lacamoire
Choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler
Produced by Broadway in Chicaago
At the Oriental Theatre, Chicago
Zest missing in non-Equity national Tour of In The Heights
In 2009, the spunky first National Tour of In The heights had an energy and exquisite dancing to fuel the contemporary Latin operetta. The lead singers were weak in this scaled-down cheaper tour playing in Chicago for 5 days.
In The Heights is a pop-rap-salsa operetta that tries to be a Rodgers and Hamerstain meets Rent 21st Century Latino musical. The show is an idealized and romantic episodic story of the Latino immigrant population of Manhattan’s Washington Heights. It is a fantasy world free from poverty, crime and violence where guns shots are not heard and everyone gets along–a sort of big city Grover’s Corner. Is this the ‘real’ Washington Heights?
From the long opening number incoherently ‘rapped’ by Usnavi (Perry Young), the operator of the corner bodega, we meet the sweet folks of the Heights. I quickly got turned off by not being able to understand the rhythmic raps due to the rapid delivery by Young. Not being able to understand many of the lyrics hurt the production as a combination of the rock/rap style singing and the loudness of the brassy orchestral arrangements rendered several of the shows ‘talk-songs’ and anthems muddled. If a show is going to tell its story mainly through songs–as this one does–best make the lyrics understandable or you lose some of the audience. The younger audiences have developed a finer ear for rock/rap and power-pop singing than us old-timers. I guess it is a generational thing? Call me old fashion, but coherent and understandable lyrics still are best way to tell a story.
My other problem with In The Heights is in its story that has for its central problem–will Nina go back to Stanford (just get a student loan?) and will Vanessa get her Bronx apartment and how will Abuela Claudia spend her $96,000 lotto winnings? The closes In The Heights gets to conflict is the racism from Nina’s family toward the African-American Benny. This is a sugar-coated, idealized and sanitary depiction of the modern big city barrio that plays as fantasy. and becomes a parody of Latin barrio life.
The most entertaining element is the terrific salsa, rhythmic music from Lin-Manuel Miranda that allowed a Fosse-Robinson styled hip-hop meets salsa dances to rumble in 4-5 high energy show-stoppers. That was the best part of the show. For the most part, the vocals were weaker that I’ve heard from most touring productions. The show is lush with sentimental heart as plays to the basic humanity of these immigrants. It is hard to argue with that. I believe younger audiences (and Latinos) will enjoy In the Heights more than I did.The opening night audience cheered the show!
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 10, 2012
For more info see the In The Heights page on theatreinchicago.com