Review: In the Heights Is a Masterpiece


Photo Credit: VirtuaaliAnu

I have never been to Washington Heights, but in some way, I feel like I have encountered it, as if I have stepped ever so slightly within it.  I’ve heard the cries of piragua in the sweltering summer air, waded through a party where people danced as if dancing was as innate as breathing, and ran through the plaza hurling my hands in the air in celebration of simple existence.  I’ve sat as my heart shoved against my chest to join this revelry, this carnival that I did not know before, and felt my lungs heave with compassion as I lamented the pain and struggle inextricably woven into these moments of joy.  In the Heights is a triumph in every way, a stunning piece of theatre that drags you into that Manhattan neighborhood and leaves you there to witness and to fall in love with a world you may not have known, a world that by the end of the show you will want to do anything to protect and make better.  It is a musical that moves you to empathy for a place you did not know existed just two hours before, transforming you in that special way that has made so many over the centuries love theatre.

The characters in this play are so richly detailed and so deeply compelling that you will truly believe that these people existed, or at least were composed of pieces of people who the playwright knew at some point.  They are defined, as real human beings are, by their subtleties and by their grand statements, in the casual and in the crucial moments, and because of that, the audience comes to understand these characters at an almost subconscious level, taking in and silently evaluating the cast as one would deduce the nature of any person.  Their personalities are conveyed perfectly through both the physical presence of the actors and by the lyrics and music to the brilliant songs throughout the musical, feats of songwriting that quickly inspire a spectator to purchase the soundtrack. The musical elements of this musical are breathtaking, from the heartbreaking epic of an elderly character’s self-examination to the wistful triumph of female lead Vanessa’s equally moving daydreaming.  These are songs that will make the audience laugh, dance, smile, and cry, and that are even more powerful when taken on by the incredibly likable cast of characters that this musical contains.

Every audience member will have a favorite character, and every single character is worthy of the honor.  Perhaps you will fall in love first with the lead Usnavy, a young man searching for both the courage to talk to the woman he loves and a home for himself and his cousin; perhaps Usnavy’s cousin Sully will seize your heart with his undeniable charm and fiery love for the people of his neighborhood.  Perhaps you will be moved most greatly by Nina’s struggle to figure out her future while her parents judge, or maybe Vanessa’s dream of escaping to a better place will snatch you away with her on the elevator train. Each of these characters, especially Nina, will captivate you; however, if there is one character who will surprise you, it’s Benny. In this production he has a voice that at times shakes under the intense emotions of the character in a way that absolutely breaks your heart.

In the Heights is, simply put, one of the greatest musicals I have ever heard, and one of the most powerful works of art I have ever encountered.  I do not merely encourage you to see this show; I beg you to experience it, to let it transport you across the George Washington Bridge to a poor Upper Manhattan neighborhood.  Go to this play; let it move you. You will not regret it.