REVIEW: “In the Heights”


There are almost always walk-outs during intermission even of a good show, but honestly, barring a family emergency, I cannot imagine anyone not coming back for Act 2 of the In the Heights other than it being — ahem — “too ethnic.” The opening number is an eight-minute rap sung by Dominicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and African-Americans. The dance moves are more pop-and-lock than step-ball-change. They wear Nikes and Bedazzled tank-tops, not toe shoes and tutus. The only white faces you’ll see for two and half hours are those in the audience. Don’t like it? It’s called life.

In the Heights has a Broadway antecedent in Rent, but Lin-Manuel Miranda’s score simply has more street cred than Jonathan Larson’s more traditional rock-by-way-of-Puccini music. Caribbean beats, Latin rhythms and freestyle rap/hip-hop live alongside each other in the same harmony as the residents of New York’s Washington Heights barrio. Usnavi (played at the performance reviewed by Robert Ramirez) runs the bodega next to the neighborhood salon and the Rosarios’ cab company. It’s the day before July 4, and the Rosarios’ daughter, Nina (Virginia Cavaliere, who has a beautiful voice) has just returned from college in California. Benny (Kyle Carter) has a crush on Nina, but he’s not good enough for Mr. Rosario (Benjamin Perez)  that is, not the right color. Meanwhile, Unsavi is trying to shore up the courage to ask out Vanessa (Presilah Nunez), who works at the salon but will be moving downtown.

This is a rangy story, that centers around how the week’s winning lottery ticket was sold at Usnavi’s store; when we learn who, the audience lets out a collective gasp. We know it’ll change at least one life forever.

The songs are remarkably adept capturing the immigrant experience; I defy anyone to list to “Inutil,” “Paciencia y Fe” or the title opener and not be both moved and exhilarated. Even in this non-Equity production (Carter seems the most out of his depth), the passion, the energy and the singing are apparent. If Ken Burns ever wanted to make a musical, he couldn’t find a better expression of the American experience than In the Heights.

In the Heights at the Winspear Opera House through March 25. Dallas Voice Life+Style Editor Arnold Wayne Jones will hold a discussion about the show in the Winspear’s Hamon Hall before the performance on Tues., March 20 at 7 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Applause: Broadgay at Winspear

Lexus series adds queer event to upcoming season of musicals

What’s gay about ‘Jersey Boys’? The GLBT Broadway subscriber series at the Winspear will tell you.

The Lexus Broadway Series offers a muscular lineup of shows that feature classic stories and contemporary rock ‘n’ roll. But they go one step further in the 2011-12 season with the stage equivalent of special edition DVDs, featuring enhanced performances and pre-show engagements for subscribers — including its gay patrons.

Dallas Voice Life+Style Editor Arnold Wayne Jones will host a conversation every second-week Tuesday about 45 minutes before each show. The series, called GLBT Broadway, will highlight the appeal for queer audiences for the shows in the series. The discussion will touch on issues of gender identity and sexuality in regards to the show and the teams behind them. Some — such as the season lead-off, Hair — might be easier to analyze from a gay perspective than, say, Jersey Boys, but that’s part of the fun of the series.

The season starts with Hair, which won the Tony in 2009 for best musical revival. Youth in 1960s America are all about peace, love and understanding — including nudity and homosexuality — in this iconic musical. Sept. 20–Oct. 2.

The epic Les Miserables follows with a new 25th anniversary production. Dec. 20–Jan. 1.

Best musical Tony winner In the Heights details the immigrant experience as characters find a new life in their new country. March 13–25.

Alt-rockers Green Day went Broadway with American Idiot, touted as a mashup of a rock concert and staged musical. May 8–20.

The season concludes with Jersey Boys and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Classic hits like “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” tell the tale of this well-accomplished music group from the ‘50s. June 12–July 15.

Other subscriber series include Broadway University, hosted by SMU theater professor Kevin Hofeditz which will explore themes of the show and its place in theater history (every second Saturday matinee) and Broadway Uncorked (every second-week Wednesday), where an expert sommelier will host a wine tasting based on the show. We wonder what American Idiot’s wine will be.

— Rich Lopez

For more information on the Lexus Broadway Series and its enhanced performances, visit ATTPAC.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 26, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

New season of Lexus Broadway Series to include ‘Hair,’ ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘American Idiot’

Billy Joe Armstrong

Dallas is finally getting some excellent shows … and some familiar ones return … again.

The Lexus Broadway Series, which was launched with the opening of the Winspear Opera House in 2009 as a national tour series to compete with Dallas Summer Musicals, released its new season. It kicks off around Pride Weekend with the revival of Hair (which on Broadway starred Gavin Creel, the openly gay actor who performed at Black Tie Dinner last year). The sexually fluid show has been a staple for 40 years, but the revival was singled out for praise.

That’s followed in December with the return of Les Miserables, a terrific if bombastic mega-musical which nonetheless gets revived a bit too often. (The original 1987 Broadway production closed in 2003 … only to be revived on Broadway again in 2006.) I’m a fan, but even I’ve grown weary of it.

Then things get cookin’ — though we have to wait almost a year. Next March, Dallas finally gets In the Heights, a not-too-gay urban hip-hop musical with a Latin beat about Dominicans living in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. That’s where my family lived when I was a boy; the set of the show was actually the subway stop I used to get off at. The music is phenomenal. It won a lot of Tony Awards in 2008; when I saw it on Broadway, Rosie O’Donnell was sitting next to me.

In May, the music gets even edgier with American Idiot, the rock musical based on the music of the neo-punk band Green Day. Again, not an especially gay show, except that the group is very gay-friendly and frontman Billy Joe Armstrong likes to get naked a lot (pictured). Plus, Tommy Tune told me a few weeks ago it was one of his favorite new shows — an unlikely endorsement, which should intrigue musical enthusiasts.

The series ends with another old saw, Jersey Boys — again, a fun musical that has been around for a while about the founding of the Four Seasons.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones