In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s heartfelt ode to life in a multicultural neighborhood, is ending its long journey around the United States in a place where the show feels as familiar and welcome as a cup of café con leche.
Miami is not, in fact, where Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ vibrant Tony Award-winning musical takes place. But catch the show’s way-too-short run through Sunday at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts and you’ll quickly see that In the Heights belongs in Miami, sounds like Miami and speaks to Miami in a way that few Broadway hits do.
Unfolding over a couple of torrid July days in northern Manhattan’s Washington Heights, the musical serves up slices of many intertwined lives, most with emotional ties to places like Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and places much closer to Miami than New York.
Bodega owner Usnavi (Joseph Morales) throws down rhymes and insights, doing witty verbal battle with his wisecracking cousin Sonny (Chris Chatman), chasing away talented tagger Graffiti Pete (Jose-Luis Lopez) and pining for the gorgeous Vanessa (Lexi Lawson), a beautician who dreams of escaping to a better life downtown. Abuela Claudia (Elise Santora), actual grandmother to no one but abuela to one and all, takes in all the young folks’ drama and always offers the same wise counsel: paciencia y fe, patience and faith .
Car service owner Kevin (Daniel Bolero) and his wife Camila (Natalie Toro) are excited because their brainy daughter Nina (Genny Lis Padilla) has come home from her first year at Stanford, but not as excited as Benny (Nicholas Christopher), a handsome black driver who has always had a crush on the boss’ daughter. Salon owner Daniela (April Ortiz), stylist Carla (Ana Nogueira) and Vanessa are preparing for a move to cheaper quarters in the Bronx. Change is in the steamy air, and not even the syrup-tinted icy treats served up by the cheerful Piragua Guy (Oscar Cheda) can cool off the drama that is to come.
Life in In the Heights is constantly churning, playing out in a salsa number here or a ballad there, dancing with style and edge. The contributions of director Thomas Kail, choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, arranger-orchestrators Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman, set designer Anna Louizos, costume designer Paul Tazewell and lighting designer Howell Binkley are the work of artists at the top of their game. And the sizzling cast is not, in any way, marking time until Sunday evening’s final performance.
Among the highlights: Christopher and Padilla singing the tender Sunrise after crossing the line from friends to lovers. The salon girls’ gossipy, funny No me diga. The lottery dreams expressed in 96,000. Morales’ rapid-fire, clear scene-setting in the opening number.
Original, beautifully crafted and oh-so-resonant, In the Heights isn’t a Miami-made show, though plenty of South Florida talent had a hand in shaping the musical or bringing it to life in performance, both on Broadway and throughout its national tour. Yet seeing the show on the Arsht’s stage and listening to the roars of a crazily enthusiastic crowd, you can’t help feeling that In the Heights has come home at last.