Josh Rittberg

Staff Writer

The famed composer Lin Manuel Miranda achieved worldwide acclaim with his smash hit musical “Hamilton”, and at the Fulton, audiences are being treated to an excellent production of his first ever musical “In The Heights”.

The musical is set in Miranda’s childhood borough of Washington Heights. It follows three days in the lives of the vibrant community members of Washington Heights as they grapple with the ideas of home, family, and finding where they belong.

The story revolves around the character of Usnavi (Diego Klock-Pérez) who runs a bodega stand with his cousin Sonny (a scene stealing Alex Swift). Usnavi has a dream to move out of the scrappy neighborhood of Washington Heights, and back to his homeland: The Dominican Republic.

After one member of the Washington Heights community wins the lottery, the members of Washington Heights have an opportunity for their dreams to come true. The plot can be complex at times, but the music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda has so much heart and truly immerses the audience into the world of Washington Heights.

Diego Klock-Pérez as Usnavi truly commands the stage. The character of Usnavi serves as the audience’s guide through Washington Heights, and in the opening number Pérez brings the audience into Usnavi’s world with true showmanship.

The role of Usnavi was originated by Lin Manuel Miranda himself, and Pérez does a spectacular job of honoring the role that Miranda created while still making the part of Usnavi his own. Alex Swift was absolutely hysterical as Usnavi’s cousin Sonny, whose humorous attempts to woo Vanessa had the audience in hysterics.  

Tauren Hagans and Gabrielle Flores were an excellent comedic pair and stopped the show in their number “No Me Diga”. Kalyn West was a real powerhouse as Vanessa, and she blew the audience away with her acting and vocals during her act one showcase “It Won’t Be Long Now” as well as in the breathtaking number “96,000”.

Mili Diaz as Nina managed to display heartbreaking vulnerability in the song “Breathe” in which Nina expresses her fear of telling her parents that she dropped out of college. Flores also displayed fine chemistry with Daniel Yearwood as Benny in the numbers “When You’re Home” and “Sunrise”.

Christopher Michael McLamb offered excellent comedic relief as The Piragua Guy, and although he did not have as pivotal of a role in the overall plot, McLamb made the most out of the time he had.

Not only did they dance Mark Stuart’s choreography with incredible precision, they were also able to bring a true sense of community to the production.

Paul Black’s meticulously detailed scenic and lighting design truly transported the audience to Washington Heights. The lighting was festive when it needed to be in the club numbers, while also being intimate for the emotional second act.  

The production was expertly directed by Bob Cline.  Cline’s direction had the ensemble roaming around the set throughout the show. Whether it was listening to one of Abuela’s stories or even just looking out a window, Cline’s direction with the ensemble added a bustling atmosphere to the entire production.

Along with his work on the ensemble, Cline got extremely heartfelt and realistic performances out of the stellar cast. Stuart’s choreography was endlessly creative and athletic, and his work especially on the showstopper “96,000” and on the explosive act one finale “Blackout” were truly rousing and left the audience hungry for more.

The score by Lin Manuel Miranda is an eclectic mix of hip hop, Latin music and more traditional broadway ballads. The band with music direction by John Daniels played Lin Manuel Miranda’s score with incredible energy and flair. Jacob Mishler’s crystal clear sound design made every word understandable to all. Even nine years after its broadway premiere in 2008, Quiara Alegria Hudes’ book with its messages of home and family still feels as timely as ever.

The Fulton’s production of “In The Heights” boasts strong performances, an infectious score by Lin Manuel Miranda, and an important and heartwarming message of finding where you belong.

All photos and photo captions courtesy of The Fulton Theatre.