'In the Heights' packs a wallop in Westchester

Published: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 7:00 am By: David Begelman Source: Danbury News Times

"In the Heights," with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel  Miranda and book by Quiara  Alegria Hudes, exploded on the Broadway scene in 2008 at the Richard  Rodgers Theatre, after productions in Connecticut in 2005 and Off-Broadway  in 2007.

Set in a predominantly Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights  in New York City, the show was nominated for 13 Tony Awards. It won four of  them. It was also up for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

The musical dramatizes a number of universal themes like family and  neighborhood solidarity, the value of tradition, the support of elders, the  importance of higher education, love, financial security and ethnic  identification.

But make no mistake about it -- the real attraction of this show is not its  focus on issues of importance to all communities, but the group song and dance  numbers that have you bouncing right out of your seat along with its  salsa-sprinkled beats and rhythms. And it's no different in the current  production of the musical at Westchester  Broadway Theatre. All performers in its cast deliver -- and in spades.

Hudes' book for "In the Heights" doesn't grab you like those of "West Side  Story," "South Pacific," "Fiddler On the Roof" or "Rent." The life struggles of  its characters seem ratcheted down in importance when compared to those other  shows.

When you get right down to it, Morgan  Marcell's dance routines in the current Westchester show, based as they are  on Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography in the original Broadway production, make  the Hudes storyline sometimes seem perilously close to an exercise in  kitsch.

You're so impressed by the group dance numbers, you could care less about  whether Nina (played by the vocally accomplished Arielle  Jacobs, reprising her featured role in the original production) has dropped  out of school, to the dismay of her father, Kevin