Entertainment » Theatre

In the Heights

by Drew Jackson
Friday Mar 16, 2012
The national touring cast of "In the Heights"
The national touring cast of "In the Heights"  (Source:John Daughtry)

Everybody has to come from someplace. But not everybody writes a Tony award winning musical about that place such as Lin-Manuel Miranda has done with "In The Heights."

The Heights refers to Washington Heights, the New York City neighborhood at the far northern tip of Manhattan. "In The Heights" presents a snapshot of a tight-knit, old-style neighborhood from the perspective of multiple characters over the course of a few days.

Miranda's songs snap and sizzle with a unique fusion of hip-hop and salsa that is appropriate, since the Heights has long been a neighborhood of Dominican immigrants.

Despite its contemporary, feel-good vibe and its 2008 Best Musical Tony, "In The Heights" seems more like a showcase for Miranda's music and lyrics and Andy Blankenbuehler's energetic nearly ubiquitous choreography than it does a full blooded musical. In short, what it's lacking is a book that would have tied this vibrant musical montage into a Broadway event.

Instead, what we get is a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes that doesn't do justice to Miranda's hot and sassy score. "In The Heights" strives to be a contemporary multicultural slice of life, but Hudes' book is as conventional as they come.

The book borrows liberally from most of Rogers and Hammerstein plots from the 1940s and 1950s. It's set in a very particular location; it features a love story revolving around the main character as well as a love subplot featuring a secondary couple.

Understudy Robert Ramirez, as the protagonist Usnavi -- an enthusiastic, contagious leading man -- opened "In The Heights" Dallas debut Tuesday night at the Winspear Opera House standing in for tour lead Perry Young.

The book features an elderly sage character that dispenses wisdom. Finally, an event occurs but all is well in the end. The plot is at once both overpopulated and underwhelming. It's noteworthy that of all the awards that "In The Heights" won, Hudes' book didn't even receive a nomination.

Understudy Robert Ramirez, as the protagonist Usnavi, opened "In The Heights" Dallas debut Tuesday night at the Winspear Opera House standing in for tour lead Perry Young. Ramirez is an enthusiastic, contagious leading man and is clearly having a blast.

Usnavi's love interest, Vanessa, dreams of leaving the Heights and moving downtown. In a confusing performance, the beautiful Presilah Nunez plays Vanessa as a major bey-atch and it's never clear why Usnavi is attracted to her.

More successful are Kyle Carter and Virginia Cavaliere as the secondary couple that opens Act II on Anna Louizos' stylized sun-dappled neighborhood set. Christina Aranda easily wins over the audience as Abuela (Grandmother) Claudia.

But it's Tauren Hagans, as the salon owner Daniela, who brings down the house with her belting voice and natural charisma leading the block party musical and dance explosion in "Carnaval del Barrio".

"In The Heights" is an upbeat, likeable crowd-pleaser. Forget that there's no plot and just join in Daniela's block party for a fun night at the Winspear.

"In The Heights" runs through March 25 at the Winspear Opera House, 2403 Flora Street in Dallas. For info or tickets visit http://www.attpac.org/

Drew Jackson was born in Brooklyn and has been writing ever since he graduated from NYC. He now lives in Dallas happily married to his husband Hugh. Jackson is currently working on his next play.


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