By Katie Earles
I knew going into the theater that I would not be disappointed. Aside from all the Tony Awards and the genius behind the music of the musical, I could tell from the realistic New York set that it would not be hard to be transported to Washington Heights, New York City. “In the Heights” was everything I expect from a good musical; it made me laugh, cry, and look up all the lyrics directly after it ended.
The upbeat musical set in New York City is showing at the Rialto theater
in Atlanta from July 21st to August 28th. The fast-paced musical focuses on a vibrant Latin American community from the Dominican Republic living, loving, and learning in New York City’s Washington Heights.
Directed by Justin Anderson, the musical stars Diego Klock-Perez as Usnavi, a rapping Washington Heights young man who is well known in his community. Usnavi, along with his lighthearted younger cousin Sonny (Christian Magby), runs the neighborhood bodega and keeps the community caffeinated with their addictive light, sweet café. They live with their grandmother, Abuela Claudia (Felicia Hernandez) who came to America from Cuba when she was a child. Throughout the story, Usnavi pines for Vanessa (Julissa Sabino), an attractive, strong willed girl who works at the Beauty Shop across the street.
Only a few houses down, the Rosario family runs a taxi driving company, and when their daughter Nina (Diany Rodriguez) returns from studying at Stanford bearing bad news and subsequently falls for her father’s employee Benny (Garrett Turner), they threaten to do something that will alter the community forever.
Klock-Perez spits words as fast as the proclaimed actor and writer of the music who originated the role: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Well known for his creation of “Hamilton”, “In the Heights” was his original masterpiece. Miranda worked on the original draft for “In the Heights” his sophomore year at Wesleyan University. The musical encapsulating the Latin culture of New York City went on to eventually win the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations. Miranda’s performance of Usnavi won him a Tony Award for Best Actor In A Musical.
The choreography by Ricardo Aponte in the Atlanta showing is what brought the show to life. Littered with inspirations from salsa, ballet, and hip-hop, the ensemble, garbed in modern t-shirts, crop-tops, and jeans, brought the downtown neighborhood vibe of Washington Heights into the Rialto theater in Atlanta.
“In the Heights” gave me the opportunity to experience a broad range of emotions in only 160 minutes. The comedic smaller characters brought out liveliness to the musical, such as the sassy beauty shop owner Daniela (Lilliangina Quinones) and the heartwarming Piragua guy (Juan Carlos Unzueta). The larger roles delivered the more moving songs, such as Abuela Claudia in Paciencia y Fe and Nina in Everything I Know. These numbers moved the plot from a simple romance or comedy to a story that tackled much larger topics like growing up in a difficult place and pursuing your dreams. This is a musical for all ages, appealing to the younger audiences with the fast paced numbers and the older generations as well with the heartwarming and heartbreaking slower songs. The show will leave you wishing you were living in New York City and drinking Usnavi’s sweet cafe.