Theatre ReviewsTom Williams

In The Heights

Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Mirandain the heights national tour

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 Palace Theatre

Terrific dances redeem the sentimental Latino pop operetta

I must state that that I detest rap and most rock music yet I enjoyed the 2008 Tony Award winning In The Heights (the national tour) more that I thought I would.  The infectious, manic and deftly executed dances (by choreographer  Andy Blankenbuehler) and the very likable characters gave me something to care about.  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 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.

in the heights national tour

From the long opening number incoherently ‘rapped’ by Usnavi (Kyle Beltran),  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 Beltran. 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.

in the heights national tour

My other problem with In The Heights is in its story that has for its central problem–will Nina go back to Stanford 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.

The most realistic content 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 production values, despite some sound problems, delivered winning moments.

Somewhat Recommended

Tom Williams

“In The Heights” will continue as part of Broadway In Chicago’s 2009/2010 Season through January 3, 2010 at The Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph St.  Tickets range in price from $18-$90 and are available at this box office or any of the Broadway in Chicago box offices, by calling the Broadway Ticketline at 800-775-2000, at all Ticketmaster outlets or online at where you can also check the actual performance times. The shows runs 2 hours, 20 minutes with intermission.

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