In mid January, I took my Mexican friend to see In the Heights when they stopped in Chicago for obvious reasons, as in, with so much Spanish included in the book I wanted to bring someone that would understand and appreciate the Spanish… turns out I was right.
This production sparkled, there was chemistry in places that I didn’t believe there would be at first glance, the singing was spot on and emotional. The comedic moments shone through and the dancing was more than just amazing, the choreography was absolutely perfect, if not exceeded the first U.S. Tour when it went through Chicago a few years ago. The central character: Usnavi seemed a bit breath-y in a few of his bits… not the same silky smooth rhythm of Lin-Manuel Miranda, but he did a respectable job overall.
Nina was a bit younger looking than I expected her to be in comparison to the other “young” characters in the cast. Although this was at first was a distraction, eventually her singing won out as well as her chemistry with her romantic opposite.
Vanessa was played to perfection with the right amount of sass and sauciness… but one thing I noticed was that Vanessa as a character is actually a lot more vulnerable than she at first appears, which was a welcome acting decision (I believe). It gave Vanessa a lot more depth and warmth that I didn’t necessarily believe existed before.
The choreography was spot on, with a lot of wonderful bits by various members of the cast. I love how during “Blackout” everyone takes out their cell phones and uses them as flashlights. Some of the lyrics / dialogue that was in Spanish I had my friend translate for me… and some he would not at all until we were talking online at home. Instead while at the theater he would turn to me and ask, “Are they allowed to get away with saying that on stage?” to which my reply would be, “apparently if it’s what they are saying.” Yeeeeaaaaah, so the show is a bit dirtier than what the average theater goer would go away thinking.
If there is one thing that grates my nerves is that when I go to see a show and the choreography does not match the context of the show that it is being placed in. For In the Heights there was a moment during Pacienca y Fe where Abuela Claudia would talk about leaving Cuba for the States and growing up in America. There were wonderful moments where the costume choices fit the time period, and the choreography overall also fit the time period… but with just a touch of hip hop to remind the audience member that this is a memory.
What really impressed me about this production of In the Heights is that this is the non-Equity tour… while the last time In the Heights came to Chicago it was an Equity production. From what I understand, this non-Equity production totally surpassed the Equity production by leaps and bounds. Just by watching it, I really don’t know how the Equity production would ever come up to scratch.
All in all, seeing In the Heights was a real treat and one that I would highly recommend if you ever get a chance to do so in the future.