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‘In the Heights’ soars to musical heaven

Post by Craig Sailor / The News Tribune on Oct. 1, 2010 at 9:51 am |
October 1, 2010 9:51 am

In a corner of New York City the residents are overheated and in need of something more than the shaved ice vendor can provide. Fortunately they have that All-American outlet: song and dance.

Tony-winning “In the Heights” opened Thursday night at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre where the audience was brought to their feet by the show’s compelling performances and pulsating beats.

The musical is set in the Dominican-Puerto Rican neighborhood of Washington Heights. The set recreates apartment buildings and the small businesses that inhabit their ground floors, so ubiquitous in that city. Looming over it all are the towers of the George Washington Bridge – anchors in this otherwised fast paced and ever changing world below them.

If you’re familiar with that part of NYC you’ll find yourself walking the streets again – stylized as they are on this stage – filled with bodegas and push cart vendors.

With music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (book by Quiara Alegria Hudes) the story takes place over a handful of days during a July heat wave. While the narrative is only mildly compelling (built around a young woman who has dropped out of college) the characters bring the show alive. Their fears, longings and aspirations are the real story. I found myself pulled in by the end of the show.

The young cast dances, sings and raps their parts – often in ensemble numbers like “96,000” – the highlight of the first act. Many of the performers stand out in this show.

Usnavi (Joseph Morales in the lead part) raps most of his songs. It adds a modern and urban vibe to the otherwise traditional format.

Chris Chatman (Sonny) has a lyrical voice which is underutilized in this show but his character adds many a comedic touches. Chatman has a way with song and comedy and hopefully we’ll see more of him in the years to come.

Arielle Jacobs (Nina) turns out a strong performance as the female lead, sometimes overshadowing Rogelio Douglas, Jr. (Benny) who holds his own nonetheless.

The choreography will want to make you risk back injury by trying a few spins on the way home. A mélange of Latin to break dancing – the moves are interspersed throughout the show giving it an appropriate feeling of spontaneity.

Lyrics and dialogue are comedic through much of the show but not all of it was intelligible – and not just because some of it was in Spanish.

“In the Heights”
The 5th Avenue Theater
Through Oct. 17
Tickets here

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