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'In the Heights' - Broadway Review

A salsa-fueled new musical rocks the Richard Rodgers Theatre

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


 'In the Heights' - Broadway Review

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Photo Credit: © Joan Marcus
In the Heights is a raucous, but sweet, Independence-Day-in-the-life of New York’s far upper west side neighborhood, Washington Heights. This is not the barrio of gangs and drugs, but the home of American-dreaming immigrants and their children from diverse Hispanic backgrounds. It is a knowing love letter – in salsa and hip-hop – from its creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, to an often overlooked section of the city.

What 'In the Heights' is About

The plot is a soap opera, or better yet, a telenovela told in two-and-a-half hours. Nina is the neighborhood success story, the daughter of industrious, no-nonsense parents who own a gypsy cab service; she’s back home after a bad first year at Stanford. Will she return to college, or will she settle back in with her boyfriend, the non-Hispanic Benny? Nina’s parents are happy to employ him, but they are unhappy to think of him joining their family.

Beauty shop owner Daniela is being gentrified out of her shop by rising rents and is relocating to the Bronx, but Vanessa, who works for her, has big plans for herself and dreams of moving to a trendier neighborhood farther south.

At the center of it stands Usnavi, the young owner of a run-down bodega, selling coffee and lotto tickets, at least whenever a power outage hasn’t shut his store down or the local graffiti artist marked it up. Usnavi dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic with his abuela Claudia, who raised him, but he also dreams of getting the beautiful Vanessa to notice him.

And then there’s that $96,000 lottery ticket Usnavi realizes he has sold to someone in the neighborhood . . .

Why You’ll Like 'In the Heights'

The energy of this show alone gets you charged up. Infectious salsa beats fuel dance after dance, where sometimes it appeared the cast must have been held up by strings. Rap lyrics catch the rhythm of the Heights and the people who are so comfortable there and, often, so desirous of leaving.

Most of us can relate to a love-hate relationship with home. In the Heights tells us those feelings go doubly so for immigrants and their children, who are pulled forward to some imagined better life ahead and back to a romanticized better home left behind.

So where is home? That’s the question the show asks, but it asks it in the language, music and motion of Washington Heights.

The performances are uniformly strong, with Miranda, as Usnavi, literally bouncing across the stage, as if the neighborhood both anchors and propels him.

Mandy Gonzalez and Christopher Jackson, as Nina and Benny, provide the right spark for a Maria-and-Tony relationship, reminiscent of another musical set in a west side Latino culture.

Anna Louisos’ set is a marvel, bringing an intersection in Washington Heights to life on the Rodgers stage - complete with an “A” train stop on the corner and the G.W. Bridge in the background - looming over everything with its promise of connection to life off the island. Choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler cut his Broadway teeth as a dancer in Saturday Night Fever, and his knowledge that every neighborhood has a heartbeat, a rhythm, clearly shows.

This show brings a new sound to Broadway, but I think it’s one audiences will welcome. I know they’ll find it hard to sit still.

Things to Consider

In the Heights makes no compromise with the cadence of its lyrics or the volume of its music. Sometimes, at least for me, it was hard to understand what was being sung. And this is a wonderfully loud show because salsa is wonderfully loud music, but you need to know that going in.

Even in its off-Broadway run, some reviewers pointed out that the show offers a rather benign look at barrio life. One of its positive attributes is that it focuses on the everyday lives of some pretty good people. But to some, the fact that In the Heights pays scant attention to the seamier side is one of its negatives.

I’m not so sure. At the performance I attended, sitting next to me was a young Hispanic couple in their late teens or early 20s. She had dressed up and was loving the show before it started. He held her hand and was alternately smiling at her and scowling around. I couldn’t help asking: Yes, they were from Washington Heights, and, yes, this was their first time in a Broadway theater.

I think a show about a wonderfully contradictory neighborhood that brings first-time attendees to Broadway from that neighborhood has got something good going on.

Who Put This Show On and Stars In It?

Among the cast, listed alphabetically, are Andréa Burns (Daniela), Janet Dacal (Carla), Robin de Jesús (Sonny), Carlos Gomez (Kevin), Mandy Gonzalez (Nina), Christopher Jackson (Benny), Priscilla Lopez (Camila), Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia), Lin-Manuel Miranda (Usnavi), Karen Olivo (Vanessa), Eliseo Román (Piragua Guy), and Seth Stewart (Graffiti Pete).

Lin-Manuel Miranda conceived In the Heights and wrote the music and lyrics. Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote the book. It is directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler. Alex Lacamoire is the music director, and he orchestrated it along with Bill Sherman. Anna Louizos did the sets; Paul Tazewell, the costumes; and Howell Binkley, the lighting.

Brig Berney is the company manager, and J. Phillip Basset is the production stage manager.

Producers are Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sander Jacobs, Robyn Goodman, Walter Grossman, Peter Fine, Sonny Everett and Mike Skipper.

  • Richard Rodgers Theatre
    226 West 46th Street
  • Show Times and Tickets
  • Opening: February 14, 2008
  • Closing: Open-ended run
  • Run Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (including intermission)
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