A review by Tyler Hinton for Broadway World.
Pioneer Theatre Company’s concert staging of Lin Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS is a heartwarming presentation that washes over you like a breeze.
In the Heights (music and lyrics by Lin-Maniel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes) won the Tony for Best Musical in 2008, along with Tonys for score, orchestrations, and choreography. It follows a cross-section of characters living in Washington Heights, a mostly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. The music is filled with catchy rap, Latin rhythms, and moving Broadway ballads. Regardless of your cultural background, you will almost certainly identify with the universal situations and themes.
Diego Klock-Pérez is perfection as Usnavi, who owns a small convenience store and hopes to someday return to his homeland, the Dominican Republic. Having had the opportunity to play the role a number of times in the past, his rapping, comic timing, emotional beats, and physicality have all been refined. His likeability as an actor informs the likability of the character, which makes it absolutely believable that the neighborhood would rally around him. He is a doppelganger for Lin Manuel Miranda, who originated the part, as well as the leading role in his smash hit HAMILTON. Casting directors take note, Klock-Pérez is primed to move on to play Alexander Hamilton at any moment.
The men of this cast really shine, from Carleton Bluford‘s effortless vocals as Benny to Enrique Acevedo‘s chilling solo “Inutil” as Kevin to the amusing but still grounded performance of Tomas Joaquin Matos as Sonny.
Two of the most dynamic leading characters, Nina and Vanessa, are portrayed with passion by Micki Martinez and Ariana Escalante, respectively.
Much of the cast is from Utah, including a number of students, which is unusual for a PTC production. Some elements of the acting and vocals lack polish, which may be partly due to the relative inexperience of some of the performers, but it is also completely understandable when the abbreviated rehearsal period for a concert staging is considered. It is also more than made up for by the heart inherent in the story, which has been magnified by the heart invested by the cast.
Although the show is performed script-in-hand, it is much more fully staged than one might expect a concert to be. Director Karen Azenberg‘s choreography and blocking are utilized throughout, and although it is simple, it is extensive and impactful.
The refreshing onstage band plays the score’s intricate rhythms and soaring melodies without skipping a beat or pulling focus.
The uncredited set works well as an abstract representation of Washington Heights, supplemented by far more set pieces and props (presumably from past and future PTC productions) than expected in a concert setting. This is a nice surprise.
The lighting by Kirk Bookman subtly embodies the time of day, providing the action with a realistic sheen.
The major highlight of the show is the Act I finale, “Blackout,” which utilizes lighting, staging, and acting in effective, impressive ways to produce an emotional response in the audience leading into intermission.
Whether you consider IN THE HEIGHTS to be a modern masterpiece or simply a groundbreaking piece of contemporary theatre, it is something truly original that is celebrated in PTC’s joyous concert staging. Two performances are left. Get tickets if you can!
IN THE HEIGHTS plays through March 17, 2017. For tickets, call the box office at 801-581-6961 or visit www.pioneertheatre.org.