Chicago Theatre Review
‘In the Heights’ tour features big talent and big voices
By Devlyn Camp
Not so far away from the tunes tapped on Broadway, the Washington Heights barrio features it’s own melody. It took years of effort, but finally, the 2008 musical In the Heights breathed Broadway life into the Latin and hip hop scores of the streets, going on to win the Tony Award for Best Musical and, of course, hit the road. In this production, now at the Ford Oriental Theatre, a new cast introduces Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (Music, Lyrics) original story.
Usnavi (Perry Young, in Miranda’s original role) tells the barrio’s story, although the acting is sometimes flat and awkward. He finds a quirky spot in Vanessa’s (Presilah Nuñez) heart though, and one can’t help but root for him. That every-leggy Nuñez is glamorous, powerful, and knows how to drop jaws with a silky solo number. In Vanessa’s effort to find a new home, she falls for Usnavi, who wants to leave his home, too, and head for his home country, the Dominican Republic. The cast also features strong voices in nearly every performer, among a dash of less-than-decent acting. Nina’s (Virginia Cavaliere) milky high notes in her song “Breathe” are even more appreciated when put next to her dull character. It’s difficult to put your finger on it, what’s wrong with the performer. Bad acting is just something one knows when they see it. When an audience member remembers that they’re in an audience watching a play, the dream broken, that’s probably when they’re watching something not click onstage.
Although among the lows, the production has many highs. Sonny (Robert Ramirez), Usnavi’s little cousin, is so smug and adorable. He is the comic relief of most scenes and leads the show’s funny bone along with the gossipy salon women. When the full cast finally comes together in the song “96,000,” there a vocal strength that outshines any flaw one caught earlier in the production. The sound is precise, the lights follow suit, and choreography is so wild it’s difficult to process in words. When the number is over, the audience has to catch their breath too.
Each song and scene is decorated with citizens walking around the barrio in contemporary choreography. The walking movement is altered to match a hip hop sound underscore. (The music, by the way, is a pretty impressive work by Miranda.) As each character focuses on how to find their way home, Abuela Claudia (Christina Aranda) happens to find her success very late in life. The younger generation, who were brought to this town by Claudia’s generation, seeks to leave to find new territory, not recognizing the past’s sacrifice. In a twist for the better, a sense community is recognized and the friends-are-family theme is utilized. While seeming commonplace here in the written text, onstage it is quite a beautiful layout. This street intersection (a gorgeous forced perspective set design by Anna Louizos) is where the insanely talented common people call home. Their everyday problems are supported by the friends on this block, and, as the smart lyric directly states, “When you have a problem, you come home.”
IN THE HEIGHTS
Broadway in Chicago
Through January 15, 2012
Tickets $25-$75, available at BroadwayInChicago.com
Contact critic at email@example.com