Theatre Review: 'In the Heights,' Town Hall Arts Center Littleton, through Oct. 8


Jose David Reynoza, Chelley Canales and Chris Castaneda. Photo Credit: Becky Toma
In the Heights is a Broadway musical-style celebration of a passionate community's effort to fulfill their dreams, rebound from disappointment, and hold together through love and determination as a flagging economy drains away the very things that give their neighborhood its unique character.

The show started out as a college project created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is Broadway's current golden boy with his hit show Hamilton. His music and lyrics are a fascinating mash-up of freestyle rap, salsa, quirky character numbers and Broadway ballads.

In the formerly Irish but now largely Hispanic Washington Heights, three local businesses are failing, and there's not much anyone can do about it. The little bodega market is a target for taggers, the beauty shop employees have no one to beautify except themselves, and a family-run independent cab service is laying off drivers.

Many of the residents, mostly second or third generation immigrants from Puerto Rico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic and various Caribbean locales, dream of escaping to a better life, fall into nostalgia for the way things used to be, or struggle with the despair that comes from knowing they're on a sinking ship without a lifeboat.

Even a winning Lotto ticket can't do much except offer a respite for a select few, but the spirit, the passion, the joy of life in the people can't be quashed. Everyone is literally dancing in the streets, day and night.

Jose David Reynoza and Margie Lamb.
Photo Credit: Becky Toma
Sure, the characters are romanticized, and the poverty-stricken neighborhood is inexplicably crime- and drug-free, except when people get too worked up, party too much, and fall in love with exactly the wrong person. There's no problem that can't be overcome if people would just come together, claim their identity, affirm their solidarity, and talk it through.

The cast is terrific, and since this is mostly an ensemble show, everyone, even the guy pushing an ice cream cart, gets a solo. The characters are distinct and delightful, though it's sometimes hard to figure out familial relationships. But who cares? It's all about the village. 

Nick Sugar's direction and choreography are outstanding. The action keeps moving, with musical and dance interludes covering transitions between scenes. It really does feel like non-stop song and dance numbers, and the hot-blooded passion of the cast is contagious.

It didn't bother me that several obvious Anglos in the cast were playing Latino characters, even though this is a show about preserving and celebrating cultural and familial identity. One character is forced to confront the dynamic between protecting ethnic purity and committing segregational racism.

It was great fun to watch a mostly white, middle-aged suburban audience, who I imagine residing in gated communities overlooking golf courses, get swept along in the unbridled passions of people who live in run-down apartments with no air conditioning, are chronically underemployed, and carry top-tier smartphones they only pull out to use as flashlights when the power grid collapses.

It's a kind of culture shock. But the good kind.

In the Heights is pure fantasy, following the usual plot and character arcs, but the exotic varieties of music, the hot dancing, and the diverse cast offer a welcome appeal to breaking down barriers and finding our way together.

Town Hall’s production of In the Heights runs through Sunday, October 8, 2017. Showtimes are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. (and 2 p.m. on 9/23) and Sundays at 2 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. on 10/1). Reserved seat tickets are currently on sale, priced $24.00-$44.00 at the Town Hall Arts Center box office, 303-794-2787 ext. 5 (Monday - Friday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., 1 Hour prior to Shows) or online at townhallartscenter.org/in-the-heights. Group discounts available for purchasing ten or more tickets, please contact Corey Brown at cbrown@townhallartscenter.org or 303.794.2787 x 213. In a continuing effort to make plays at Town Hall Arts Center accessible to all, ten value seats at $10 each will be made available on a first-come-first-served basis one-hour prior to each published curtain time.

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