The heights referred to in the title of the Broadway musical In the Heights is Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan adjacent to the George Washington Bridge largely occupied by working-class Hispanics, many of them from the Dominican Republic and other islands in the Caribbean. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who stars in the show and is ...
The heights referred to in the title of the Broadway musical In the Heights is Washington Heights, a neighborhood in Upper Manhattan adjacent to the George Washington Bridge largely occupied by working-class Hispanics, many of them from the Dominican Republic and other islands in the Caribbean. Lin-Manuel Miranda, who stars in the show and is also given a credit for conceiving it as well as writing the songs, clearly knows the neighborhood intimately. When, at one point, a character reminisces about the subway trains, the IRT 1 and 9, that serviced the area, his character, Usnavi, quickly points out that the 9 has been discontinued. Usnavi, the owner of a bodega (a small grocery) who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, is not only knowledgeable about local transportation. In the introductory song "In the Heights," as he introduces the many other characters in this ensemble piece, rapping over salsa music, he uses words such as "exacerbated" and at one point, speaking of the high temperature, notes, "It's gotten too darn hot like my man Cole Porter said." Usnavi is, in other words, a bit too well educated to be what he claims, and the mixture of closely observed street life with erudition is typical of the show's writing, just as Miranda's music, while infused with Latin and hip-hop elements, is also informed by contemporary show music writing. There's no doubt he's familiar with Stephen Sondheim as well as Jonathan Larson, whose Rent is a major influence, even if it's about an entirely different neighborhood of Manhattan. Like Rent , In the Heights follows the lives of a group of characters whose aspirations and experiences have something of a soap opera quality, though the intention is to provide a panoramic view of a bustling community. There is the sense of that neighborhood's falling apart: several of the characters want to leave, others are being forced out. (At one point, Usnavi predicts that in five years the whole city will consist of nothing but rich people and hipsters, a forecast people have been making for a century or so.) But while they're still on the hot streets, they sing and dance and interact with each other, and Miranda has captured their stories well. The large cast, also including Mandy Gonzalez, Karen Olivo, and Olga Merediz in principal roles, does well by the score on this double-CD cast album, which runs 89 minutes. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi