In the Heights Doesn’t Quite Soar, but it’s Almost There

It continues to pay to be under 30. At the beginning of the month, Dancap’s 30Cap Community sent us discount tickets to the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, so last night we made the trek north of the city to check it out.

In the Heights explores three days in the lives of hard-working immigrants in a Dominican-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights as they strive to find their place and build a better life for themselves in their new country.

There’s Usnavi, the owner of a bodega, who is in love with Vanessa from the Salon next door. We see Nina, the community prodigy and the only one to go to college, only to drop out and come crawling back home. Benny, the only non-Spanish speaking member of the community, works for Nina’s father and falls in love with Nina upon her return. Along with Sonny, Usnavi’s younger cousin and Graffiti Pete, the community does their best to keep things together during a vicious heat wave, a black out and the death of their beloved matriarch Abuela Claudia, who was like a grandmother to all.

It’s only fitting that a play based on the hardships of an ethnic community be produced by a non-Equity company. However, as a result a number of the cast are right out of university and haven’t garnered much stage experience. That, along with the fact that many regulars were missing and their understudies stepped up to fill their shoes made for a few bumps along the way.

There were a few glaring mishaps in terms of lines and some characters seemed uncomfortable with their roles. Though they did run through quickly the cast change before the show, since our seats were closer to the back exit than the stage, it was hard to tell who was who and compare faces to the program to sort out what actor was playing the different characters.

In the Heights was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, a Puerto Rican-American composer, rapper and lyricist, and was based on the neighbourhood he grew up in. The Puerto Rican flare has a dominant role in the music and flow of the play, providing us with a musical experience we had yet to explore in our veteran theatre going.

The majority of Usnavi’s musical numbers were done in a form of freestyle rap, creating a non-stop mouthful of story to spit out, something much different than the usual theatrical musical numbers.

We especially enjoyed the random references to Frodo and Lord of the Rings during the numbers, though it would seem that we were the only two in the whole theatre who appreciated the nerdisms.

Perry Young, who I think was in his regular Usnavi role last night, was dead on in every scene and was quite impressive in his portrayal. He was probably the strongest character on stage throughout the show. Sadly, it seemed like some of the other actors fell a little flat in their roles. There were definite moments where talent shined through, but what were supposed to be dynamic characters seemed to get lost in the hustle on stage from time to time.

It was a worthwhile effort, and an entertaining one at that, but we’re thankful for Dancap’s 30Cap discount, as a full price ticket is a bit too steep for these heights.

images from google images