Friday, October 30, 2009

REVIEW: In the Heights

It’s easy to see why "In the Heights" won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical. The show is absolutely spellbinding.

"In the Heights" kicked off its first national tour last week at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, wowing crowds to the rhythms of the Latino and hip-hop cultures.

This isn’t your ordinary musical, as it has a highly contemporary feel to it. There’s hip-hop, salsa and urban dance along with some light rap tunes. While rap in general may turn some people away, it doesn’t in this fun and energetic show. Part of the story is told through the vehicle of different music styles and dance, which makes for enjoyable theater.

"In the Heights" is a story about the people of Manhattan’s vibrant and tight-knit Washington Heights Latino community, and the ups and downs they face as life changes. The story centers on a young shop owner named Usnavi who would love nothing more than to move to the Dominican Republic, where his roots are. He would also like to win the affection of Vanessa, who is struggling with her own troubles. Subplots include Nina, who returns home from college to tell her parents — who expect much from her — that she’s dropped out because of financial difficulties. Her father, Kevin, who owns a car service, faces a huge financial decision. In the meantime, Kevin isn’t too fond of his daughter’s budding relationship with Benny, who works for him.

There are other entertaining subplots that work well in this story, though I would have liked to have seen a little more background on Nina’s mom, Camila. Regardless, whether you are young or old, there are characters and/or situations that you instantly connect to. This show is truly multi-generational. Speaking of which, for older audience members, there are a few traditional Broadway music ballads nestled into this Lin-Manuel Miranda show that they will especially enjoy.

Overall, some of the best musical numbers includes "96,000," which received a long ovation from the crowd, and "The Club/Fireworks." Besides the dancing, part of the intrigue of the musical lies in some of the special effects movements — particularly in the eye-catching slow-motion scenes.

While the cast and the band were incredible in "In The Heights," standout performances are given by Kyle Beltran as the lovable Usnavi; the smooth Rogelio Douglas Jr. as Benny; the charming Arielle Jacobs as Nina; the humorous Shaun Taylor-Corbett as Unsavi’s comic relief cousin Sonny; Elise Santora as the wistfully-aging Abuela Claudia, and Isabel Santiago as Daniela the sassy salon owner.

With drama, humor, festival music and dance, there’s plenty of delights for everyone who sees "In the Heights."

-January Holmes

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