In The Heights

by Michael Martin

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday March 22, 2010

The cast of the national tour of In The Heights.
The cast of the national tour of In The Heights.  

Celebrating the biculturalism of New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, the Tony Award winning musical, In The Heights recently arrived at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale for a two week engagement.

Originally conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also wrote the show's musical score, and with an accompanying book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the show focuses on the intermingling lives of a select few in the mostly Latin community located in the northwestern section of Manhattan.

Usnavi (Kyle Beltran) runs a small family store with the help of his young cousin Sonny (Shaun Taylor-Corbett). Usnavi's actions are continually monitored and mentored by his grandmother, Abuela Claudia (Elise Santora), who also presides as a kind of neighborhood patriarch.

Usnavi has eyes for a seemingly unattainable beauty named Vanessa (Sabrina Sloan), who works at the neighboring hair salon run by Daniela (Isabel Santiago).

Nearby, proud parents Kevin (Daniel Botero) and Camila (Natalie Toro) operate their own small car service business, and cannot contain their excitement over the return of their daughter Nina (Arielle Jacobs) from a top California college.

A spark has always existed between Benny (Rogelio Douglas, Jr.), an African-American that works for Kevin, and Nina, and her return home re-fuels the fire between them, much to the disapproval of Kevin.

Unfortunately, Nina's parents' bubble of boastfulness is soon popped by Nina's admission that she has actually returned home because her poor school grades caused her to lose her scholarship funding. Unable to pay the high tuition on her own, she flew back to nest once again in her comfortable Washington Heights surroundings.

Once exposition has introduced all of the main characters, Hudes' book sets upon a mostly predictable plot path.

Both young Romeos are united with their requited Juliets (Usnavi with Vanessa, Benny with Nina). Daniela does move her hair salon to a more favorable rent location in the Bronx. And Nina's parents sacrifice their family business to support their daughter's dream of returning to college.

What spices up the banal storyline is Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography set to Miranda's unique score that mixes a traditional Latin vibe with modern day hip-hop more popularly associated with the youthful characters at the center of focus.

Beltran, in particular, wows as he raps to an energetic hip-hop beat while relating Usnavi's side of the storyline. Miranda also starred as Usnavi in the Broadway production and was nominated for a Best Actor Tony. Beltran easily fills the lead role's shoes of his own accord, however, and dazzles on stage.

Taylor-Corbett's portrayal of Sonny also stands out among the ranks. The young actor proves himself a gifted comic whose dry delivery has all the right punch to elicit huge laughs.

Overall, the production is top notch, and Miranda's clever fusing of musical styles makes it easily understandable why the musical won the 2008 Tony for Best Original Score.

The thin plot aside, Hudes' characters duly represent any number of vibrant personalities one might encounter on a trip to New York's Washington Heights. Latin audience members might relate more closely to the cultural innuendos. However, all audience members can relate to the fun that this energetic musical emanates.

In The Heights continues through March 28th at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW 5th Avenue, Ft. Lauderdale. For more information, please visit the website.

Michael Martin has been an active member of Actors' Equity for over 20 years. As a professional actor, he has toured many parts of the US and the world. Originally from St. Louis, he now resides in Miami.