Friday, October 01, 2010

In the Heights - 5th Ave

The 5th Avenue Theatre
September 28-October 17, 2010
Tickets and Information

Catharsis: an experience or feeling of spiritual release and purification brought about by an intense emotional experience. This word could be the alternate title to In the Heights, of which the national tour remiered tonight at the 5th Avenue Theatre. This fairly new musical, with music and lyrics by the up-and-coming genius Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, snatched up four Tony Awards in 2008 for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.

In the Heights revolves around the lives and events of a community of Latin Americans in Washington Heights, New York City during the hottest days of summer. There is a lot of struggle toward goals, a lot of celebration of culture, and a lot of dancing. We are led through it all by Usnavi, a twenty-something bodega owner who raps to us about his people and their stories. What threatens to break them apart—and what saves them in the end—is everyone’s dream to find home and happiness.

Photo by Joan Marcus.

What this show does well is showcase a culture and population traditionally ignored or marginalized by musical theatre by tweaking and revamping standard musical theatre conventions to fit the hip-hop and Latino beats. Much like the characters within, it praises its background and identity while recognizing and embracing its predecessors. Just look for yourself at the similarities between the opening number “In the Heights” and “Anatevka” from Fiddler on the Roof.

Thomas Kail’s direction, along with Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography, was inspiring and unrivalled in attention to detail. Every moment and every movement was carefully and tenderly crafted toward the message of the piece. Extensive light effects and intense dance sequences only served to elaborate on the vulnerability and talent being showcased in performance. Each actor performed as if nothing else mattered, which is a quality highly sought after and rarely achieved.

In the Heights is the perfect way to start off a stellar season—the exuberant “paciencia y fe” reflecting these hopeful and forward-looking times. It is the catharsis that we all need from time to time to connect us to what is truly important: family, friends and embracing who you are. No wonder it won the Tony for Best Musical.

Review by Kacey Shiflet.

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