Lifting Musical Theater to New “Heights”

In the Heights opened on Broadway in 2008 and won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and it’s easy to see why.  Focusing on the day-to-day lives and conflicts of people in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, the musical shows the hardships on the way to chasing your dreams, making a living, and finding your true home. The national touring production stopped at Eisenhower Auditorium last night and provided audiences with an emotional and musical experience.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is how it blends different musical styles together. The score by Lin-Manuel Miranda skillfully fuses Latin music like salsa and merengue with jazz, pop, and very clever freestyle rap.  The cast kept up with the pace both in dance numbers and some incredible harmonies, and Presilah Nuñez as Vanessa, Katharine Brady as Carla, and Gabriel Gonzalez as Piragua Guy all stood out in their vocal solos.  The show also featured some great performances from Benjamin Perez as the stubborn father Kevin, Nicole Paloma Cline as the much-loved Abuela Claudia, and Robert Ramirez as the young and ambitious Sonny, who provided many hilarious moments of comic relief.  It’s also interesting to note that the ensemble featured Penn State School of Theatre grad Jeffrey Nunez.

However, having seen In the Heights on Broadway, I felt there was something lacking from this performance. Before the show, it was announced that this performance was the opening night for the tour. The first act felt like it was running on very little energy, and there were spotlight issues throughout the show.  However, once the second act began, the cast seemed much more energetic and less nervous. I would have liked to see this production once it had more experience, because I think keeping the energy level through the roof is what makes this show great.

Despite some flaws, the show stands on its own through sheer creative power. What really resonates is the show’s heart. Emotional responses, personality traits, and cultural references are extremely personal and specific to the characters, but at the same time allow the audience to connect to the show. Wanting to succeed in college to make your parents proud, dealing with the loss of a loved one, or struggling to be a good father are just a few of the challenges faced in the roller coaster of life, and these moments are captured perfectly onstage, accompanied by an amazing musical score.

Though In the Heights only stopped at the Eisenhower Auditorium for one show, the Center for the Performing Arts is always a great place to catch touring musicals.  Other shows scheduled this season include Rock of Ages, American Idiot, Cats, and Young Frankenstein, so there’s sure to be a mix of music and theater for everyone.

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Alex Federman

Alex is a Senior at Penn State who enjoys watching movies and television shows (probably a bit too much). He's a Film/Video major, with a Spanish minor.

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