(New Cast, Summer 2009)

Book by Quiara Allegria Hudes
Music and Lrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by Thomas Kail
Richard Rodgers Theatre / West 46th Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

This is essentially a “drive by” review, quick and to the point. Circumstances involving my affiliation with a new publication (going through growing pangs and about to be re-titled and re-launched after a false start) had me unexpectedly seeing In the Heights for a third time, on assignment. Probably not something I would have done for Aisle Say without some general publicity call-out to the NY press at large—but I’m glad I did nonetheless.

               Because it lets me report that, despite a number of replacement performers in key roles—including former standby Javier Muñoz taking over as our lead, Unsnavi, from the show’s composer-lyricist Lin-Manuel MirandaIn the Heights has lost absolutely none of its octane. Every new cast member is as sharp as his or her predecessor (and in one meaningful example, even sharper), and the show, under the direction of Thomas Kail, still retains its opening-week polish; nothing about it is tired or by-the-numbers.

               The energy of the show, and its particular brand of music—theatrically filtered Latino, rap and rock styles—is such that the roles don’t invite different interpretations in the way that, say (to use an extreme example), Mama Rose is transformed when a new actress takes her on; In the Heights, though brimming with humanity, is too locked into its pulse and tempo for that. (Curiously, it’s a lot like The 39 Steps in that regard; new performers don’t so much make it their own as find their own way to absorb and deliver the exacting requirements of it.)

               Thus Blanca Camacho (Daniela, the hair shop proprietor) and Marcy Harriell (Vanessa, our lead’s lady-love) seem simply like new members of the family, perfectly attuned and delivering pitch-perfect performances.

               The producers, perhaps cleverly, don’t draw attention to a standby or understudy substitution, but rather just have a Xeroxed page slipped into the Playbill that says “The Cast at this Performance” under the date, such that it might be nothing but a program update. But a little research revealed that I did see a standby—Eliseo Roman (usually the Piragua Guy)—in for Rick Négron in the role of car service owner and beleaguered father Kevin. And while I can’t speak for Mr. Négron, it does seem that the producers have corrected the mistake of having had Carlos Gomez in the role when it transferred to Broadway. Though a lovely actor, he simply couldn’t sing the role well enough (its off-Broadway originator, John Herrera, is a powerhouse singer, and a gifted actor), and he was apparently also a nod to celebrity within the Latino community. If Mr. Roman doesn’t quite have the wattage or the vocal power of Mr. Herrera, he doesn’t fall far short, and his Kevin is both beautifully sung and sympathetic.

               All technical aspects—sound balance, orchestra, lighting, etc.—remain as toned and well-maintained as the cast. The show’s energetic ability to pump and move its audience is apparently as inextinguishable as it is inexhaustible.

Spencer's original Off-Broadway review of In the Heights
Spencer's review of the Broadway transfer
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