In The Heights

Despite the desperate efforts of a few powerful and vocal descendents of former European immigrants, the USA's melting pot creed remains vibrantly alive and well, as evidenced by In The Heights, the spicy 2008 Tony Award-winner for Best Musical, now running at the Buell Theatre.

Elise Santora as Abuela Claudia and Kyle Beltran as Usnavi
Elise Santora as Abuela Claudia
and Kyle Beltran as Usnavi
Photo: Joan Marcus
Set in the Washington Heights, a Dominican neighborhood in uptown Manhattan, the show draws inspiration from such Broadway classics as West Side Story (the dance in the gym and the fire escape lovers), Fiddler on the Roof (the philosophic ghetto narrator), Guys and Dolls (the street patois and minor transgressions), and Showboat (racial prejudice), while offering a completely fresh take on popular music, dance, costumes, and sensibilities, highlighted in the hip-hop, salsa, merengue and soul music production numbers and scintillating vocals.

The verité set—featuring a bodega, a salon, a limo service, street vendors, and the apartments and fire escapes that rise a couple of stories above them— is filled with colorful, archetypal characters, all of whom have a compelling story.

Sabrina Sloan as Vanessa
Sabrina Sloan as Vanessa
Photo: Joan Marcus
Usnavi, the owner of the bodega, is in love with Vanessa, who works at the salon. He dreams of the Dominican Republic and is set to repatriate after things turn ugly during a power outage, while she dreams of getting her own apartment downtown, but is thwarted by her mother's appropriation of their rent money for drink. Usnavi was raised by Abuela (grandmother) Claudia, whose health is now deteriorating.

Rogelio Douglas, Jr. as Benny and Arielle Jacobs as Nina
Rogelio Douglas, Jr. as Benny
and Arielle Jacobs as Nina
Photo: Joan Marcus
Nina is the first in her family to attend college (Stanford), but returns home after a difficult first year and falls in love with her old high school friend Benny, the only African-American in the barrio. He works for her father, Kevin, who owns the car service. Kevin believes that Benny is not good enough for his daughter. Kevin wants to sell the family business to send Nina back to school, but his wife and savvy partner, Camila, is adamently opposed to the sale.

Solos by Sabrina Sloan (Vanessa), Arielle Jacobs (Nina), Elise Santora (Abuela Claudia), Isabel Santiago (Daniela, the golden-hearted owner of the salon), and Natalie Toro (Camilia), as well as some cool, jazzy raps by Kyle Beltran (Usnavi), lead a universally strong cast of singers and dancers.

A host of other characters and threads add to the complexity, depth, and emotional coloring. A sudden windfall provides the deus ex machina for an uplifing outcome that captures the pathos of immigrants as they search for an identity in a new land, caught between their traditions and assimilation, between home and their dreams.

Denver Center Attractions presentation of In The Heights runs through May 9th. 303-893-4100 or

Bob Bows


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