Theatre Review: “In the Heights” @ Curran Theatre (SF), 05/12/10

It’s obvious that In the Heights is a winner. It’s won numerous awards including the Tony Award for “Best Musical” in 2008 as well as score, orchestrations and choreography. It also has won Drama Desk Awards, Lucille Lortel Awards, Outer Circle Critics Awards, Obie Award and even a Grammy for “Best Musical Show Album”. The show is fantastic and if you haven’t seen it, then I’m not sure what you are waiting for. Buy your tickets and enjoy one of the best musicals I’ve seen in recent years. (Read the New York Times review, here.)

The real question is: Does this touring cast live up to all of the Broadway hype? I’d have to say yes. If you’ve seen In the Heights on Broadway or Off-Broadway, you won’t be disappointed. I saw the original cast on Broadway and was totally blown away by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics and story, not to mention the electrifying choreography by Andy Blakenbuehler. The touring cast has a lot to live up to, and they do so in a way that gives it their own unique interpretation. Natalie Toro (Camila – Nina’s Mother) almost stole the show with her solo number, “Enough”. It was incredible. It’s not one of my favorite songs and Toro made it one of the most passionate songs of the evening. Another stand-out was Sabrina Sloan (Vanessa). What a voice! You might remember her from American Idol a few seasons back. Her vocals are beautiful. Also, Arielle Jacobs (Nina) was equally as talented though the physical connection between her and Rogelio Douglas Jr. (Benny) wasn’t as hot as it should have been, especially in “Sunrise” – the act 2 opener.

I honestly wasn’t sure if anyone would live up to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Usnavi. He conceived, wrote and starred on Broadway and even received a Tony Award nomination for “Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical”. Usnavi (Kyle Beltran) was funny and extremely likable. His relationship with Abuela Claudia (Elise Santora) was touching. I did miss a lot of the rhymes in the lyrics because his diction wasn’t as clear as it needed to be but other than that, I really enjoyed Beltran’s youthful take on Usnavi. His sidekick, Sonny (Shaun Taylor-Corbett) was charismatic and the audience seemed to enjoy his comic-relief. (Taylor-Corbett was an original cast member of the Off-Broadway/Broadway cast.) Isabel Santiago as the fiery and sassy hair salon owner, Daniela, was hilarious.

The choreography is some of the hottest choreography I’ve ever seen in a Broadway musical. The way that Blankenbuehler uses the choreography to tell a story is genius. The little moments between scenes when the ensemble uses dance to move the story along are some of my favorite moments in the show. The ensemble definitely shined in the songs: “96,000”, “The Club/Fireworks” and “Finale”. “96,000” almost got it’s own standing ovation. Obviously, it was the best song of the night.

I think I could see In the Heights over and over. I never expected to love it as much as I do, but it’s infectious rhythms and beautiful melodies accompanied with a story that has more heart than most Broadway musicals makes for an electrifying evening of theatre. I might just have to go back and see this again. It’s that good.

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