by Lynn on February 8, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Toronto Centre for the Arts. Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Conception, music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Direction and Choreography recreated by Michael Balderrama. Set by Anna Louizos. Costumes by Paul Tazewell. Lighting by Howell Binkley. Sound by Acme Sound Partners.

Presented by Dancap Experience

IN THE HEIGHTS is an energetic, hopeful musical about finding where one belongs and celebrating it. It’s about the immigrant experience in New York City as seen through the eyes of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and others who eke out a living in the bustling neighbourhood of Washington Heights.

Usnavi is Dominican who runs a small coffee shop in the Heights. He knows how all his customers take their coffee and it’s always ready when they come through the door to the shop. He is beloved of his neighbours. He lives with his cousin and Abuela Claudia, a kind of surrogate mother, since his own parents have died.

Everybody has a story. Usnavi secretly loves Vanessa who wants to leave the Heights and move downtown and away from her alcoholic mother. Nina has left to go to Stanford—she is the only one to go to University—and she’s struggling there but doesn’t want to tell her parents. Benny, an African-American, works for Nina’s father in his taxi company and loves her, but her father doesn’t approve. They all struggle, have dreams, hope for a better day and don’t give up, not on themselves or each other.

The book by Quiara Alegria Hudes creates characters who are decent, troubled, worried and generally supportive of each other. She creates various dilemmas with hard won solutions that are anything but slick. The writing is strong.

Lin-Manuel Miranda worked on IN THE HEIGHTS while he was in college. The musical won the Tony for Best Musical (among others) for 2009. Usnavi’s dialogue is clever, intelligent hip-hop rap. His music is full of pulsing rhythms, although not really memorable tunes. The dancing in this touring production is sexy Latin; raucous, energetic and compelling. Michael Balderrama recreated the original Broadway direction of Thomas Kail and choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler, with style.

The acting however leaves something to be desired. Often the pacing is plodding and the delivery is flat. As Usnavi, Jeffrey Nuñez (an understudy) is sweet, shy with Vanessa but wise and confident with everyone else. As Vanessa, Presilah Nuñez is lithe, sensual and sweet on Usnavi, but for all her confidence, she expects him to make the first move.

My biggest concern is that the over-microphoned orchestra overpoweres the microphoned cast and make it difficult to understand some of their dialogue and a lot of their songs. Surely getting a balance would be the most important aspect of a touring production that would play a new theatre every few weeks. Here it often sounds like just so much noise. That’s not a good thing.

IN THE HEIGHTS plays at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until February 19.

or 416-644-3665

Leave a Comment

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Carrie Sager February 8, 2012 at 9:33 pm

Hi Lynn,

Thanks for this review.

Wondering why there is no link to for more info or to purchase tickets?

Thanks, Carrie


2 Lynn February 10, 2012 at 1:51 am

Good point. Thanks. I put in the info at the end of the review.


3 fio February 9, 2012 at 10:17 am

Hi Lynn from the UK,

I am wondering what you make of the non-Equity debate that is surrounding this production? I read a very convincing article on the Globe and Mail today, but I am still not very familiar with the *actual* differences between Equity and non-Equity productions (could that have anything to do with the quality of the acting that you point out towards the end, or is it just me making assumptions?). Do cast and crew somehow get less legal protection when non-Equity?



4 Lynn February 10, 2012 at 2:00 am

Hi Fio,

Thanks for this. Such a tricky situation. Usually young talent work in non-Equity situations in order to earn their Equity card. Being a member of Actors’ Equity means they are bone fide professionals. Now I’m sure those hardworking talented people would say that they conducted themselves and were professional except for that card. I am not saying the acting was poor in some cases because they were not Equity–you can get bad acting anywhere. In this case the actors are getting their experience in a high priced show–the tickets are expensive. The argument is that audiences shouldn’t have to pay such high ticket prices if the talent is not truly professional. And you are right, they do not have the protection that the union, Equity, would give them. But the actors take the chance for the experience. There will be a few more Dancap productions that will not use an Equity cast (SHREK THE MUSICAL, BEAUTY AND THE BEAST) and the tickets will be expensive. Buyer beware indeed.