Nevertheless, "In the Heights" is, overall, an infectious delight. Set in Manhattan's upper Washington Heights section, a onetime melting pot now primarily Latino (Dominicans and Puerto Ricans share the neighborhood), it throbs with familial exuberance.
Its central character Usnavi (named after a naval ship his father saw in the harbor and replaced the Y with an I) is a master rapper who operates a small grocery store and pursues a hairdresser from the shop next door. He's wonderfully portrayed by Joseph Morales whose exhaustive opening-scene patter sets the tone and tempo.
Strongest among a solid cast is Danny Bolero, operator of a limousine service, whose daughter (a lustrous Arielle Jacobs) has just dropped out of Stanford, crushing his dream. On top of that, she's fallen for her dad's black employee (Rogelio Douglas Jr.), which steams Papa even more.
Several performances are memorable among an energetic ensemble, but Elise Santora stands out as Jacobs' loving grandmother whose "Patience and Faith" number is a first-act highlight. Lexi Lawson as the vibrant Vanessa, pursued by Usnavi, also is highly effective, as is Natalie Toro as Bolero's stern wife who blunts her husband's bombast.
Ensemble excellence enriches the production, highlighted by the brilliant choreography of Andy Blankenbuehler and director Thomas Kail's imaginative staging. Anna Louizos' colorful street setting and Paul Tazewell's flashy costumes increase the enjoyment, while the often-wild lighting designs of Howell Binkley punctuate the action with a flourish.
"In the Heights" moves at a fervent pace, and it may take two or more viewings to fully absorb. Overall, it's a rich and exciting experience.
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