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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

A Tangy Taste of the Barrio Awaits In the Heights
at the 5th Avenue Theatre

Also see David's reviews of Hairspray and The Cider House Rules Part Two

In the Heights
Natalie Toro and Daniel Bolero
I openly admit to enjoying the national tour of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical In the Heights more than I ever expected to. Amidst the weak crop of recent Broadway musicals it certainly can boast one of the most tuneful scores, by the undeniably gifted Lin-Manuel Miranda, and if its book by Quiara Alegrķa Hudes is hardly riveting, it still amounts to a pleasant slice of day to day life in Washington Heights, and its characters are pleasant folks to spend an evening with, as peopled by a most attractive and robustly talented cast.

No West Side Story style gang wars erupt in the languid summer days around the 4th of July in which In the Heights takes place. A pair of cousins dream of getting out of the neighborhood grocery biz, and may have that chance when their Abuela collects on a lottery winning. A family that owns a car service is divided when the patriarch decides to sell the business to fund his daughter going back to college without consulting with his tart tongued wife. Romances struggle and flourish, vendors sell cold drinks in the stifling heat, and a big electrical blackout figures in the end result of these interwoven tales, which unfold not unlike a musical telenovela.

But Manuel's music can transport you, and his lyrics are solid (if hard to take in, due to rather muddy sound/balance with the orchestra at the opening night show).  Thomas Kail's direction clips along, and Andy Blankenbuehler's choreograph is fervent, varied and never relentless. The visual design team sizzles, led by Anna Louizos' scenic design, which is sort of a Hispanic version of the set of the film Rear Window, giving us a cinematic crossview of the neighborhood. Paul Tazewell's costumes are colorful and never too heightened to be believable, and Howell Binkley's lighting design is always on the mark.

Daniel Bolero is commanding and heartfelt as the stubborn car service owner Kevin, and he scores big with his two solos "Inutil" and "Atencion", with Natalie Toro as his wife Camila and Arielle Jacobs as his daughter Nina perfectly filling out that family circle. Joseph Morales is a commanding central presence as grocery owner Usnavi and he couples well with attractive and talented Vanessa, especially in their duet "Champagne." Rogelio Douglas, Jr. is likable and sympathetic as Benny, and he and Jacobs make something special of their romantic duet ballad "When the Sun Goes Down." As Abuela Claudia, Elise Santora is the heart of the company, and really wakes up the show with her powerful voice on "Hundreds of Stories."  Other fine work is turned in by Chris Chatman as the goofy Sonny, Ginny Lis Padilla as Carla, and in a scene-stealing minor role, David Baida as the Piragua Guy.

In the pantheon of Tony Award-winning musicals, In the Heights, for me, ranks not in the heights of Fiddler or A Chorus Line nor in the "how did that show win a Tony?" depths where most rank the likes of "Hallelujah, Baby" or "Two Gentlemen." It's somewhere solidly in the middle. And I'll wager that Miranda has bigger, bolder Tony Award-worthy scores in his future.

In the Heights plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through October 17th.  For tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org. For the tour schedule, visit http://www.intheheightsthemusical.com/tour-ticket-info.html


Photo: Joan Marcus

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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