Published: Thursday, October 05, 2017 @ 6:00 AM
By: Russell Florence Jr. - Contributing Writer
— If you’ve ever wondered what makes “Hamilton” a cultural game-changer, check out Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning hip-hop/pop musical “In the Heights” —currently presented at the Schuster Center courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association and Minnesota’s Ordway Center for the Performing Arts in collaboration with Teatro del Pueblo.
Here are five reasons why you should see Miranda’s entertaining and eye-opening account of diversity, legacy and home, nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
1. UNIVERSAL STORY.
Featuring a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and co-directed by Alberto Justiniano and James A. Rocco, “In the Heights” weaves multiple stories and dreams of the Upper Manhattan Latino community of Washington Heights in New York City.
Centered on bodega (grocery store) owner Usnavi, the musical strikes a relatable chord in its depiction of close-knit individuals.
This colorful community takes care of their families, have deep pride in their neighborhood, have deep pride in their native homeland (Usnavi has roots in the Dominican Republic), rejoice in the successes of their neighbors, and struggle to make ends meet while longing for better opportunities.
When one of them suddenly wins the lottery, hope is renewed and celebrated. No matter where you were raised or whether or not you took Spanish in high school, you will find something in their journey to connect with.
2. RELEVANT INCLUSIVITY
Looking back, when this show opened the door for diversity on Broadway unlike ever before, planting the progressive seeds of what would become “Hamilton,” its depiction of immigration was ahead of its time.
The national discussion was simply not where it is today. So, hearing the story of Abuela Claudia, the grandmother who raised Usnavi, is a powerful moment with a more gripping impact now. In “Paciencia Y Fe” (Patience and Faith), Claudia details her upbringing in Cuba and arriving in New York in December 1943 to ultimately find employment as a maid.
“Nueva York was far, but Nueva York had work, and so we came,” she exclaims. Claudia’s pursuit of the American Dream cannot be discounted and is inspiring.
“I am thrilled to be working on a story that encapsulates the strength of a Latino community who, when its very existence is jeopardized, musters the guts to celebrate its cultural pride as an act of defiance,” said Justiniano.
3. DYNAMIC SCORE
Miranda’s gifted knack for hip-hop wordplay and creating moments with depth and soul that feel like throwbacks to classic musicals is evident throughout his Tony-winning score.
For example, the opening title song introduces Washington Heights on par with “Tradition” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” and flavorful ensemble numbers “The Club” and “Carnaval del Barrio” respectively recall the joy of “Havana” from “Guys and Dolls” and “Dance at the Gym” from “West Side Story.”
“Lin is always in tune with identifying who should express themselves,” said original “In the Heights” director Thomas Kail.
4. LIVELY CHOREOGRAPHY
Directors Alberto Justiniano and James A. Rocco provide exuberant routines with street-inspired and salsa-driven movement clearly aiding the look and feel of the story. The aforementioned “Carnaval del Barrio” is a particular knockout.
5. ENGAGING PERFORMANCES
Last week, an Australian production of “In the Heights” was canceled due to controversial whitewashing or inauthentic casting. Thankfully, Dayton audiences are treated to a terrifically authentic and very engaging cast wonderfully led by Justin Gregory Lopez as Usnavi. Breezily rapping without missing a beat while full of wit and energy, Lopez absolutely charms. Equally noteworthy are Aline Mayagoitia as soul-searching student Nina, Lauren Villegas as gossipy nail salon owner Daniela, Emily Madigan as Daniela’s ditzy sidekick Carla, Stephen Scott Wormley as Nina’s love interest Benny, and Debra Cardona as Abuela Claudia.
WANT TO GO?
What: “In the Heights”
Where: Mead Theatre of the Schuster Center, Second and Main streets, Dayton
When: Through Oct. 8. 8 p.m. Wednesday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
Tickets/more info: Call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com