In The Heights: beautifully overdone

The Ordway, through September 24

Debra Cardona and Justin Gregory Lopez in IN THE HEIGHTS. Photo by Rich Ryan.

In The Heights (at the Ordway through September 24) – despite its glitziness, its over-the-top-ness, its (extreme) loudness – beautifully invokes the heat, the funk, the grit of a New York City summer. Better than anything I can think of (better even than the brilliant West Side Story). As a portrait of the upper west side Dominican barrio, Washington Heights, In The Heights can’t be beat.

The story unfolds sporadically, but effectively: the elfin Nina returns to the Heights, having dropped out of Stanford (the pressures of schoolwork along with a demanding job). As Nina, Aline Mayagoitia, grew on me (after a hesitant start). She displays a lovely combination of softness and passion. She sustains the play.

Nina’s parents, Kevin and Camila (Pedro R. Bayón and Lara Trujillo)(I hope I’m getting these names right) are horrified by her decision, and ditto the gruff, heart-of-gold possessing owner of the neighborhood hair salon, Daniela (brilliantly portrayed by Lauren Villegas). Nina more or less immediately falls in love with Benny, Kevin’s dispatcher. And who can blame her? Benny is handsome, passionate and, wow, can he sing. Stephen Scott Wormley. In the meantime Usnavy (named after a passing ship) struggles to keep his funky bodega going and his aging abuela (Debra Cardona — lovely) alive. Usnavy is charmingly played by Justin Gregory Lopez.

I better stop here. Everyone in In The Heights is terrific.

In The Heights is punctuated with super-high energy, lithe and luscious dancing and hiphop/salsa inflected music created by the oft-employed and uber-talented “ensemble” and an excellent band. Directors James A. Rocco and Alberto Justiniano (In The Heights is a co-production between the Ordway and Justiniano’s Teatro Del Pueblo) have labored to make In The Heights fill the cavernous Ordway and in this they have succeeded admirably. Followspots, and brilliantly amplified music (kudos to music director Eugenio A. Vargas) and all. The music, it should be mentioned, is by the now-famous Lin-Manuel Miranda, who did Hamilton.

But…

Ignorable criticism: for my money, of which I have so little, I would like to see In The Heights done with 1/3 the cast, in a smaller, more intimate theater. Mixed Blood comes to mind. The human resonance of the play would, I believe, come though more effectively. End of ignorable criticism.

The Ordway is not a cheap ticket. But with In The Heights, with its terrific dancing and the first rate band, the theater gives you fair value for your dough.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. His Anna May Wong bioplay, How The Ghost Of You Clings, will be presented by the Playwrights Center as part of the 2018 Ruth Easton Festival. Please visit John’s informational website.

 

 

 

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