In the Heights


Through Oct. 21

Memorial Auditorium, Raleigh

If you want to see Lin-Manuel Miranda’s moving musical theatrical genius here anytime soon, you have two options: Refinance the house for the seats still available to Hamilton at DPAC, or spend a small fraction of that to see NC Theatre’s superlative In The Heights, Miranda’s brilliant 2008 Broadway breakthrough, running through Sunday at Memorial Auditorium.

Before Miranda took on the leaders of the American Revolution during the epic first years of the republic, he focused on the struggles of a single day among a small group of everyday people: neighbors who live and work on one city block in the largely Dominican community of Washington Heights, in north Manhattan. Miranda’s score crackles with the vibrancy of a bustling neighborhood as actor Andres Quintero artfully surfs the composer’s forbidding verbal switchbacks and polyrhythms in the central role of Usnavi, owner of a modest corner bodega he inherited from his parents.

As the crowd grabs morning papers and cups of café con leche, we note how gentrification threatens the neighborhood. Daniela, the local gossip (an animated Genny Lis Padilla), is relocating her beauty shop because the rent’s too high. Developers keep pestering the Rosarios (a sharp Danny Bolero and local hero Carly Prentis Jones) to sell their taxi stand. Ambitious Vanessa (Melanie Sierra), business-minded Benny (Nick Sanchez), and college kid Nina Rosario (Cristina Sastre) still view the old neighborhood as a place to escape. Even Claudia (Nicole Paloma Sarro), the neighborhood abuela, dreams of her island past. Usnavi wonders who will miss them “in five years, when this whole city’s rich folks and hipsters”.

Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the musical’s book, deftly interweave the multiple storylines. There’s Nina’s breathless fear of disappointing her demanding father and her budding romance with Benny, in the songs “Breathe,” “When You’re Home,” and “Sunrise.” A winning lottery ticket and a city-wide loss of power are turned into showstopping hip-hop fugues in “96,000” and “Blackout,” two amazing full-stage, full-cast numbers that feature simultaneous, interlocking lines of sung lyrics and spoken word.

It’s truly no small feat that director and choreographer Michael Balderrama’s kinetic production fully matches the electricity and integrity of the professional touring version that earned our five-star review seven years ago. It’s just as laudable that, in a work with this many interlocking verbal and musical parts, Balderrama’s cast still finds the drama and the human heart in the recriminations of “Inútil” and the tearful revelations of “Alabanza.” This tale of immigrants, proud of their heritage and their American citizenship, still hits the heights.  

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