The winner of Tony Awards, for best musical, score, choreography and orchestrations, In the Heights has already run for more than 800 performances on Broadway and is still going strong. The first national tour has moved into Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale and is wowing audiences with its energy and exuberance.
In the Heights is set in the Washington Heights neighborhood in upper Manhattan, an area now populated mostly by Hispanics from Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The neighborhood is an iconoclasm for a disappearing America, in which small mom and pop businesses thrive with the locals. The community is close-knit, an extended family of first and second generation immigrants who love America but are still deeply connected to their homelands.
The action takes place on a sweltering Independence Day weekend. The plot is soapy but engrossing: Bodega owner Usnavi (Kyle Beltran) loves sexy, oblivious Vanessa (Sabrina Sloan) who works at the beauty salon next door. Vanessa dreams of leaving the hood for an apartment in the Village. Across the street the owners of the local car service, Kevin and Camila (Daniel Bolero and Natalie Toro) are celebrating the return of their only daughter, Nina, (Arielle Jacobs) after her freshman year at Stanford. Nina has a secret she’s afraid to tell her parents, and finds solace with Benny (Rogelio Douglas, Jr.) who is madly in love with her, but deemed an unfit match by Kevin because Benny is not Latin. And there’s Abuela Claudia (Elisa Santora) the maternal soul of the barrio, who watches over all of its residents.
Change looms over the barrio, just as the George Washington Bride does in the uber-realistic set design by Anna Louizos. The beauty salon is relocating to the Bronx due to rising rents. Developers have been courting the cash-strapped car service owners. And someone in the neighborhood is holding a winning lottery ticket worth $96,000, which, in this neighborhood, is life-changing money.
It’s a uniquely American story of a sizzling melting pot, presented in a fresh and dynamic way. Creator Lin-Manuel Miranda’s score and lyrics is full of hip-hop, salsa and Broadway showstoppers, while Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography keeps the ensemble in perpetual, spectacular motion.
If there is a complaint about In the Heights, it’s this: Because nearly every character gets at least one soul-bearing solo, the show runs longer than it should. That’s small beef, though, because In the Heights is enjoyable from beginning to end.
While it might not be the traditional Broadway patron’s cup of tea, In the Heights is the kind of show that can introduce younger audiences to the magic of a story told through live performance.
In the Heights runs through March 28 at Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. BrowardCenter.org.