A well-executed trifle of a musical, In the Heights appealingly depicts a slice of everyday life in the Washington Heights section of New York City. With stereotyped yet extremely likable Latino characters fueling a sanitized plot built around clichéd themes, the show is more pleasant than provocative. There's the generous bodega owner and his comic sidekick cousin, a poignant piragua pushcart vendor, a talented graffiti artist, the girl who dreams of "getting out," an old Cuban immigrant woman who wins the lottery, and a couple who saved and sacrificed to send their daughter away to college only to have her return home and fall in love with a neighborhood nonachiever.
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and music and lyrics by Miranda, the show is breezily directed by Thomas Kail and artfully choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. The production flows with frisky grace from scene to song as passages of dialogue, rap, or recitative segue into salsa and merengue tunes and Broadway-style ballads. The show's dancing grows spontaneously out of stylized staging and is effectively flavored with Latin actions and hip-hop moves, yet it's grounded in a modern-dance vocabulary that lends dramatic weight to the individual movements and a broad expressive range to the ensemble choreography.
Musical director Alex Lacamoire deserves great thanks for bucking today's overamplification trend and keeping these proceedings at a civilized volume. Kudos also to Anna Louizos, whose evocative set strikes just the right balance between detailed realism and suggestive theatricality. Among the winsome cast, the standout performers are dancer Seth Stewart as Graffiti Pete; the underused Priscilla Lopez as Camila, the college girl's mother; and author Miranda as bodega owner Usnavi, whose explanation of the derivation of his name constitutes the funniest line in the show.
Presented by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman
at 37 Arts, 450 W. 37th St., NYC.
Opened Feb. 8 for an open run. Tue.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 and 8 p.m.; Sun. 2 and 7 p.m.
(212) 307-4100 or www.ticketmaster.com.
Casting by Telsey + Company.