On the hottest day of the summer in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city is the precarious setting created by Lin-Manuel Miranda for the colorful, intertwining stories of a Hispanic-American barrio in New York. At his time in college in Connecticut, nearly two decades before his musical Hamilton took the world by storm, the now-acclaimed Miranda crafted a one-act version of In the Heights, the Tony and Grammy Award-winning musical, which he later expanded for Broadway, the version we see now this week at Wells Fargo Pavilion.
Bodega owner Usnavi de la Vega (Rodolfo Soto) pines after Vanessa (Nina V. Negron). His little cousin Sonny (David Merino) idealizes a better world. Abuela Claudia (Rayanne Gonzales) — grandmother-figure for the entire neighborhood and lifelong caretaker for the orphaned Usnavi — longs to return home to the Dominican Republic and to create the best life for her self-appointed charges with the little she has.
Enter Nina Rosario (Didi Romero), “the one who made it out,” back from college and looking for acceptance from her parents and community after working two jobs to pay tuition overwhelms and forces her to drop out. Her father Kevin (Tony Chiroldes) wants more than anything to ease her financial burden and see her succeed, while his employee Benny (Gerald Caesar) just wants her.
The nuanced ensemble cast of many additional lively individuals can be summed up with one essential want — a little more cash. And the bodega has just sold a lottery ticket worth a small fortune!
This first act is where In the Heights truly shines. Characters on stage feel authentic, making songs emotionally resonant as they switch between hip-hop and Latin-influence with a sense of humor that never asks you to take the play too seriously.
The standout performance becomes clear early on during “Inútil,” as Chiroldes (an original Broadway cast member of In the Heights) spares no note to communicate Kevin’s despair — he’s as “useless” as his immigrant farming father before him if he can’t provide the income to support his daughter’s education. You truly feel the sentiment in every line of Chiroldes’s delivery.
The theatre-in-the-round also shines throughout, with two towering and dynamically-used fire escapes and creative use of its extending aisles respectively representing the storefronts of De La Vega Bodega, Rosario’s taxi service “In the Heights,” and the neighborhood salon, which all serve as backdrops to the barrio’s intertwining stories.
Though Act Two’s story can feel inconsistent, with certain characters’ arcs a little drawn out before rushing into the finale, In the Heights presents its audience with more than enough flair, wit, and authenticity to make up for it.