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In the Heights Review

No spoilers …

In the Heights, the mega tony award winning, hip hop Broadway phenomena, is one of the greatest pieces of theater it has ever been my privilege to see. This story of the Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights in upper Manhattan is not just about the modern immigrant experience but encapsulates the perpetual ideals of the American Dream and reminds us that we are all, in this country, immigrants, a message particularly resonant in this time of increased intolerance and hate crimes towards the disenfranchised members of our society.

Lin-Manuel Miranda is the brain behind this miraculous piece of theater. Not only did he create the music and original concepts, but he also brought the main character – a Dominican immigrant named Usnavi – to life as an original cast member. The emotion and power he brought to the stage is hard to imagine in the hands of his replacement, Javier Munoz (who originally understudied the role), but the quality of the entire production is so high that we fans must assume that Usnavi is safe and well in these new hands. Still I cannot help but pity those who did not have the opportunity to witness the emotion that poured from Miranda as Usnavi, particularly when he sang the final notes of the play, “take the train to the top of the world and I’m there I’m home.” It was one of the greatest moments of aesthetic power I have ever witnessed.

It should be noted that when I first saw the play, the two elderly couples sitting next to me had a very hard time understanding the play. It’s thoroughly grounded in Hispanic hip-hop culture and ,if you have no means of relating to that culture (or at least understanding rap lyrics), the play could be inaccessible. This is a thoroughly modern musical – no hint of Rogers and Hammerstein here – more akin to Rent than the plays one typically finds on Broadway. Nonetheless, everyone should see it. Parts might seem foreign and confusing but everyone can appreciate the unbelievable choreography (truly outstanding!), can relate to the struggle for advancement and belonging, and can marvel at the incredible performance of Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the neighborhood, as she pours her heart into the tale of her immigration from Cuba in the 1940’s.

More than a fabulous piece of entertainment, In the Heights reminds us all where we came from and the promise the United States continues to hold for immigrants. Towards the end of the play a store sign, belonging to the Rosario family, is pulled down to reveal the signs of the Jewish and Irish stores that proceeded it. Each new group of immigrants that come to this country, seeking a better life for their children, eventually achieve their goals and merge into this melting pot culture of ours, bringing distinct influences and new ideas that make us a stronger and more viable country. This is the core theme of In the Heights. Now its the Hispanic community’s turn to make its mark on our culture and if this play is any demonstration of what is to come, we are in for quite a Renaissance.

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