With music and lyrics by award-winning playwright, Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is well known for his groundbreaking musical, Hamilton, Garfield High School’s production of In the Heights tells the stories of the hardworking residents of Washington Square, a neighborhood in New York City.
There’s Usnavi (played by Morgan Gwilym Tso) who is a first generation Dominican-American bodega owner who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republican someday and Nina (played by Amira Abdel-Fattah) who is home for the summer after a year at Stanford which her parents struggled to pay for. Along with their friends and family, they show us the irreplaceable importance of community.
Based on the book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, these Latinx characters deal with the pressures of gentrification in their barrio while they also attempt to find their place within both the United States and their Latin American culture.
In 2014, Lin-Manuel Miranda said:
“When I see a school production with not a lot of Latino students doing it, I know they’re learning things about Latino culture that go beyond what they’re fed in the media every day. They HAVE to learn those things to play their parts correctly.”
Miranda, who is of Puerto Rican descent, gives a unique voice to the Latinx community through his theater work and this is something the Garfield Theatre Department wanted to stay true to in their production of In The Heights. Before the musical started, two students (one providing Spanish translations) came on stage to speak briefly on the importance of having a diverse cast. They said that while most of the cast was not Latinx, they urged the audience to keep in mind that this story is meant to be specific to the Latinx experience and how we can all learn from this. This was an excellent way to start which truly did highlight how seriously Garfield High School took the issue of diversity in this production.
It was clear to see that a lot of effort went into the creation of the set which featured Usnavi’s corner bodega stocked with drinks and snacks and the Rosario’s car service. With all these small details included, it added a dose of realism to the entire show.
The opening number, “In The Heights,” sets the exposition with Usnavi rapping about his life in Washington Heights while also introducing the rest of the characters. Impeccably on beat, Tso’s high energy was refreshing to see and his vocals certainly captivated the audience not only in this song, but throughout the entire show.
Another standout was Abdel-Fattah who shined during songs “Breathe” and “When You’re Home.” Nina’s relationship with Benny (played by Karl Ingram) was so well developed and the chemistry between both actors doesn’t go unnoticed – every scene with them was beautifully acted.
While there were a few moments where the actors’ microphones would go out and it was difficult to hear what was being said, the cast’s singing and choreography was so well executed that it was easy to overlook these slight mishaps.
It’s rare to see a high school cast as talented as the students of Garfield High School and their theatre department sure knows how to put together a great show.
Both heartwarming and heartbreaking, In the Heights is a show not to be missed. If 2017 has taught us anything it’s that we need to hear from diverse voices and this show successfully thrusts us into the lives of people who we might not usually hear from. In the words of Abuela Claudia, sometimes all we need is a little “paciencia y fe” (patience and faith) to get us through the darkest of times.
In the Heights, a Garfield Theatre Department production directed by Stewart Hawk. At Quincy Jones Performance Center through June 3rd. For tickets visit booktix.com.