By Erika Sasseville
Lin-Manuel Miranda, son of Puerto Rican immigrants Luz Towns and Luis A. Miranda, Jr. first made a splash when In The Heights (book by Quiara Alegría Hudes) debuted on Broadway in 2008, combining his childhood loves of musical theatre, hip-hop and salsa. Since then, he has won a Pulitzer Prize, three Tony Awards, two Grammys, and an Emmy. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for his songwriting on “How Far I’ll Go” from the Disney animated motion picture, Moana. However, most will recognize his most recent creation: Hamilton: An American Musical winner of eleven Tony Awards in 2016.
For those of us who can’t afford to leave the Twin Cities and drop hundreds or wait for hours in line for Hamilton rush tickets, we thankfully can see In The Heights, Lin-Manuel’s first stroke of genius, at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in St. Paul. In collaboration with Teatro del Pueblo, the Ordway has composed a diverse production with enough heart and fireworks to make Lin-Manuel proud.
The story is centered on a street corner in Washington Heights in New York City, the people who live there, and the bodega where they get their café con leche each morning. The ensemble wows with direction and choreography by Alberto Justiniano (also the Founder and Artistic Director of Teatro del Pueblo) and James A. Rocco. The timely themes, nerd-like references to Lord of the Rings and It’s a Wonderful Life, and hysterical inside jokes are great for all ages and ethnicities but definitely shine brighter for those lucky enough speak Spanish.
Justin Gregory Lopez and Fernando Collado delight as Usnavi and Sonny, cousins running the neighborhood bodega, while Benny (Stephen Scott Wormley) and Nina (Aline Mayagoitia) fall in love at her parents’ (Pedro R. Bayón and Lara Trujillo) Limousine and Taxi dispatch office. Wormley and Mayagoitia have stellar chemistry and gorgeous harmonies while Lopez takes the role Miranda wrote for himself, a fast-talking, hard-working, caring guy who’s too shy to dance but who raps his feelings with excitement. Scene stealers Carla (Emily Madigan) and Daniela (Lauren Villegas) bring the house down as the gossiping Salon girls. Their numbers “No Me Diga” and “Carnaval del Barrio” are audience favorites.
The lighting (Jesse Cogswell), set (Anna Louizos), and costume (Trevor Bowen) design all perfectly set the tone and conditions for not just the characters, but the titular place. With the George Washington Bridge in the background, every inch of stage looks like it was taken straight out of NYC. Both the Ordway and Teatro del Pueblo should be very proud of the work they have done, and anyone who loves musical theatre, hip-hop, or salsa should come see the show before it’s gone. As Lin-Manuel Miranda would say, “Do not throw away your shot.”
In the Heights will perform September 12-24 in the Ordway Music Theater. Tickets are available on the In the Heights performance page or by phone at 651.224.4222.