“In the Heights” – ASU Gammage

This review aired on KBAQ June 17, 2010


Broadway Across America – Arizona, ASU Gammage
Tempe, AZ

“In the Heights,” the throbbing 2008 Tony Award winning musical, explodes all over the huge ASU Gammage stage as it explores with a vibrant rhythmic beat the Manhattan Washington Heights Puerto Rican neighborhood. This pulsating immigrant area has housed most of New York City’s ethnicities. “In the Heights” is a sprightly and superbly entertaining study. It pulsates with this community’s life and, through fascinating characters and clever situations, it brings a rich cultural understanding.

The touring company duplicates effectively the original Broadway production although it’s less intense and the pesky ASU Gammage acoustics leave many of the insightful lyrics incomprehensible. But the fine show, conceived and with a score by Lin-Manuel Miranda, is so carefully developed that the culture and its continuing evolution are passionately drawn. Miranda originally played Usnavi, a young man who inherited his parent’s neighborhood grocery that became a center fixture in this community. Miranda is re-creating his original role during the tour’s next stop, Los Angeles, and he’s playing this weekend’s matinees here to ease back into the show.

Opposite the grocery is Rosario’s Car Service that Kevin and Camila built into a success that helps them send their daughter Nina to Stanford University as a passport out of Washington Heights. Abuela Claudia, Usnavi’s surrogate Mom, and the local beauty shop provide the other significant people who provide neighborhood insight.

Miranda’s pulsating, beat-heavy score is aided by Andy Blankenbuehler’s groovy contemporary dances to provide additional cultural insights. Thomas Kail’s staging opens up the characters.

With exception of the matinees, Usnavi is well played well by Kyle Beltran who shows the struggle this young man goes through to preserve his heritage but to adapt to today’s sophistication. Beltran moves well and sings with the conviction befitting Usnavi’s place as a community spokesperson. Elise Santora is touching as Abuela Claudia, an uneducated woman who respects what learning can do for the many children she served as a wonderful role model. Understudy Genny Lis Padilla takes the first act to evolve into Nina, the girl who goes to Stanford but by the second act she creates some touching moments and handles the strained relationship with her parents effectively. Understudy Kristina Fernandez is perfect as Carla, the beauty shop owner. Neither Daniel Bolero nor Natalie Toro throb with the spirited life of the original parents but Sabrina Sloan gets the right slant on Vanessa, a beauty shop worker who wants to make it on her own.

“In the Heights” is the final but best of this season’s Broadway shows. It continues through June 20 at ASU Gammage. For tickets, call the Ticketmaster box office at 1-800-982-2787 or go to the ASU Gammage box office or go online at www.asugammage.com.

Grade: A