Review: 'In the Heights' in Elmsford

Published: Friday, February 15, 2013 7:00 am By: JAMES F. COTTER Source: Times Herald Record

ELMSFORD "In the Heights," the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical, opened Wednesday evening at the Westchester Broadway Theatre with a high-powered score of rap, salsa and Latin pop and with whirlwind dance numbers. Lyrics and music are by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who was on hand to greet the audience, and the book is by Quiara Alegria Hudes, a recent Pulitzer Prize-winner for her drama "Water by the Teaspoon."

Directed by John Fanelli and presented by his Standing Ovations Studios, the revival features a cast of talented professional and regional performers. They literally light up the sky with their "Fireworks" singing and dancing directed by choreographer Morgan Marcell. Shelton Becton directs the nine-piece orchestra of keyboards, strings, brass and percussion with timely rhythm and flair.

Changes afoot

Set in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights over three days, the action marks changes in a Dominican-American barrio as Usnavi opens up his bodega "In the Heights" for morning coffee and business. His cousin Sonny, a seeming lightweight, helps him out with cocky advice on life and love. Usnavi's pretty girlfriend Vanessa works at Daniela's hair salon down the street, and his friend Benny is an assistant at a taxi dispatch company in the same block.

Benny, who is African-American and the only non-Latino, has a crush on Nina, the daughter of Kevin and Camila Rosario; they own the car service and oppose his interest in Nina. Nina is just back from Stanford University where she has had a scholarship but has lost it because of poor grades. The barrio acknowledges Abuela ("Grandmother") Claudia as its matriarch; she has brought up Usanavi after his parents died. They are all gathered together to start the new day that will change all their lives.

Someone has won a $96,000 lottery ticket sold at the store. Each one declares how they dream of spending the money. Usnavi would go home to the Dominican Republic with Abuela; Sonny shows a serious side by wanting to help improve schools; the Rosario family plans to keep Nina in college; Benny would open his own dispatch service; Daniela needs money for her hair salon. In the end, however, it looks as though all three businesses will be closed since the Rosarios sold theirs to pay Nina's college tuition, the salon has been forced to move, and Usnavi seems intent on leaving. Will he change his mind and save the day?

A talented cast

As Usnavi, Perry Young raps out the title song like an anthem of ethnic pride and with Abuela (Christina Aranda) sings "Hundreds of Stories" that envision a new life in the Dominican Republic. Greg Laucella plays Sonny for a force of natural energy. As Vanessa,