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Regional Reviews by Fred Sokol

In the Heights
The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford

In the Heightts
Kyle Beltran
In the Heights, on tour and currently at the Bushnell in Hartford through January 10th, affords a group of mostly young actors a wondrous opportunity to joyously act, dance, and sing lyrics created by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's difficult to leave the theater without feeling the positive effects through the show's high level musical voltage.

Miranda grew up just outside of Washington Heights in Manhattan but spent most of his time within the Heights neighborhood. He began to write and shape the musical while a attending Wesleyan University. In 2008, the Broadway production garnered four Tony Awards.

The locale is a mostly Latino block where young people (some of whom are in love) talk, move and sing. It is mid-summer and Usnavi (Kyle Beltran) hopes to win the heart of Vanessa (Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer) who works at a nearby beauty salon. On the other side of the stage, Kevin (Daniel Bolero) and his wife Camila (Natalie Toro) make ends meet through an auto/taxi service. Their daughter Nina (Arielle Jacobs) is home from Stanford University and informs her folks that she is dropping out of school. For years, Benny (handsome Rogelio Douglas Jr.) has worked for Kevin and Camila Rosario. Now, Kevin (who is black but not Hispanic) and Nina are a couple. Will this sit well with her parents?

Quiara Alegria Hudes wrote the book for In the Heights and the story, itself, seems recognizable. The actors, through Miranda's music which combines hip-hop, rap, pop and rock, push the musical (I hate to say this) to the heights. The production is sometimes soulful but also effervescent. Thematically, it centers upon people's lives, complete with hopes, dreams—and the doses of reality which might or might not serve as obstacles.

Beltran, as the leading man, has to follow Miranda (Usnavi on Broadway), and that assignment is not an easy one. Beltran is likable and talented; if anything, he is understated. Douglas Jr. sings sweetly and is most sympathetic. Gonzalez-Nacer's torch singing is winning. Actress Elise Santora plays Abuela Claudia, who is a grandmother figure for Usnavi, a young man who does not have parents.

Anna Louizos' set is a stunner, featuring the George Washington Bridge as it sits over the Hudson. The apartment buildings looming above are large and multi-dimensional. The spirit of the play and its very fresh, appealing draw is on the street, just outside the storefronts ... one feels the heat and passion.

It's all about community, and Miranda gets it right since he knows the beat and rhythm of the city. Emotional and sensual, his play moves in bursts of energy. As creator, Miranda singles out Thomas Kail, who has directed as In the Heights moved from Middletown, Connecticut to New York City. The production is filled with buzz and bustle but never feels disorganized. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography maximizes actors who are pliable and willing to dance for hours. Paul Tazewell's outfits, too, add flash and flair.

Some of the duets, such as "Sunrise," which opens the second act and features Benny and Nina, are lovely. The high octane company numbers like "The Club/Fireworks" and "Finale" show off individual and ensemble talents of the cast. Throughout, In the Heights is about young people whose lives are in the balance. The pulsating nature of the musical draws its focus upon those who are making decisions, faced with workplace and personal difficulties, and who live in close proximity as they move on. Theatergoers feel their fervor.

In the Heights continues at Hartford's Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts through January 10th. For ticket information, call (860) 987-5099 or visit www.bushnell.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.intheheightsthemusical.com/tour-ticket-info.html.


Photo: Joan Marcus


- Fred Sokol



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