IN THE HIEGHTS is a show that I unreservedly love and try to intrioduce to everyone I talk about theatre with for any amount of time. I drove to Los Angeles to see it before it came to San Diego on tour and I saw it again recently as San Diego Repertory Theatre brings a little Washington Heights to San Diego. Their production of IN THE HEIGHTS playing through Sunday, August 25th is just as good as those other productions.
For those who don’t know, IN THE HEIGHTS is the Tony-winning musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hude of a diverse, mostly Latin, neighborhood over the Fourth of July holiday. As all the neighbors are trying to achieve their individual version of the American dream, we see how each of their lives, impacts so many people around them. The main character, Usnavi, played by Jai Rodriguez, runs the local bodega and is privy to the actions of everyone. His American Dream is to travel back to the place where his parents immigrated from, and to win the heart of local hairdresser Nina before she moves into Manhattan. Throw in the neighborhood Abuela, the first generation parents with dreams for and struggles with their second generation American daughter, and the nosy gossips and you have the neighborhood covered.
The music is infectious and energetic, but isn’t your traditional musical theatre fare. This is more hip hop/Latin based, but don’t expect a lot of hard rhymes, as it swings from melodic to rhythmic speaking to rap in one song alone. As an ensemble this cast is great when they come together, navigating the harmonies, the many lyrics, and the fast pace while maintaining the humor and attitude in the song. Led by a 13-piece band that is backstage, this is a full musical experience. The entire show is told through song, with very little actual spoken dialogue, so the music is a major element in the show.
As Usnavi, Jai Rodriguez is a funny sweet dreamer who holds the neighborhood together. He is a solid actor, good at the fast pace of the songs, the rapping and the humor, and charismatic enough to not let all of that overwhelm. Other standouts are Danielle Moné Truitt as Vanessa, Chelsea Diggs-Smith as Stanford student Nina, Michael S. Garcia as Sonny, Usnavi’s cousin and Victor E. Chan as the Piragua Guy who hits some impressive runs and notes during his songs.
This is another summer show in collaboration with the School of Creative and Performing Arts and this show was improved for having the kids in the neighborhood. They are good dancers, add a fun sense to the staging as they infiltrate the audience, and give a sense of the living neighborhood. It helps that they are probably the generation most comfortable with this type of music and take to it naturally.
More than a slice of what is happening in the neighborhood, this is the story of the family made up by this neighborhood. I think that this is a great show for San Diego because the diversity of the show is more indicative of neighborhoods here. San Diego is made up of plenty of different people looking to achieve their American dream and it’s nice to see it onstage. If you have a chance, go see IN THE HEIGHTS before it has to close on August 25, 2013!
For ticket information please go to www. sdrep.org or call the box office at 619-544-1000