One would imagine In the Heights to be a musical about a humble barrio in Washington Heights that highlights the everyday struggles of these hardworking, yet underprivileged residents. However, this Muir Musical production takes these struggles and transforms them into trivial obstacles that are eventually resolved — with buoyant music and dance parties to highlight the togetherness of community.
Winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical, In the Heights has been a well-recognized musical for the past decade. Originally written as a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, this musical tells the story of the immigrant experience as a group of Latino characters each strive to achieve the success associated with the esteemed “American Dream.” With its Latin-driven musical influences and hip-hop inspired dance moves, In the Heights proves to be a positively entertaining and uplifting production for all audiences.
The story circles around the main character, Usnavi (played by Kevin Maneffa), who runs a local convenience and coffee shop. He opens with the musical’s anthem “In the Heights,” a simple rap introducing the neighborhood characters and the challenges they face.
Nina (played by Nicole McEntree) is the neighborhood’s pride and joy, as she attends the prestigious Stanford University across the country. When she returns home with bad news, her parents (played by Aaron Albanez and Lea Magro) are left with a difficult choice of either closing their business or furthering their daughter’s education. In the Heights ties in themes of love, loss, sacrifice, and redemption, all through a rather simple, yet memorable storyline revolved around a lottery ticket.
Much of the musical’s triumph comes from the cast’s high spirits, especially seen in musical numbers “In the Heights,” “The Club,” and “Carnaval del Barrio”. The choreography, which was composed completely by UCSD student Victoria Capuchino, ranges from Latin-style ballroom to contemporary hip-hop and keeps the audience in awe. The live music and impressive use of lighting also add to the musical’s sophistication.
This production excites audiences before it even begins with its original set adapted from the musical on Broadway. Usnavi’s bodega, Abuela Claudia’s house, the Rosario’s Taxi and Limousine service, Daniela’s salon, multiple townhomes, and a beautiful New York skyline somehow all make it onto our very own Mandeville stage.
To think that this is a student-run production makes it all the more worthwhile. With its distinguishable plot, variety of music, and relatable characters, Muir Musical ensemble has proven yet again that no song is too hard to sing, no set is too difficult to recreate, and no musical is too ambitious to produce. In the Heights is a celebration of simplicity and a reminder that hardships are almost always temporary. As one of the crowd-favorites, Abuela Claudia, would say, “Every day, paciencia y fe.”