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In The Heights: The Musical – Es Tiempo de Fiesta!

Rating: ★★★★ (out of 4)

Yet again, the Toronto Centre for the Arts was buzzing with excitement. NYC’s Washington Heights officially landed in Toronto with the arrival of In The Heights. The brainchild of Puerto Rican-American composer Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights explores the lives of a group of individuals living in New York City’s Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights.

In The Heights began its journey in 2005 at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. It then spent 6 months off-Broadway at the 37 Arts Theater, where it won 2 of the 9 Drama Desk Awards it was nominated for. It then made the big leap to Broadway, officially opening at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 9th 2008. The production went on to become very successful, recouping its $10 million dollar investment in just 10 months and winning four Tony Awards – Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography & Best Orchestrations.

Now the sizzling hot musical has hit the streets of Toronto. The non-Equity tour – the second North American tour for the musical – opened its doors at the Toronto Centre for the Arts on February 7th with a dash of Dominican flare. Before the show begins, you are greeted by Anna Louizos’ visually stunning set, modified to be more tour friendly. After a nice little introduction by Aubrey Dan & the National Anthem by Matthew Brown, the show began. The stage was engulfed with lights & music and Louizos’ set becomes the colourful Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights. Blending together both English & Spanish in both dialogue & music, you are truly brought into that Dominican-American atmosphere. You forget for a moment that your in Toronto!

We are greeted by Usnavi, a local bodega owner, who uses the art of rap to introduce the audience to his neighborhood folks. From his hilarious cousin Sonny (Robert Ramirez) to the towns artist Graffiti Pete (Roddy Kennedy), each character has something different to share with the audience. Even Usnavi’s secret love for Vanessa (Presilah Nunez), a manicurist at the salon next to his bodega, is neither cheesy nor overwhelmingly obvious. One element that stood out the most is the element of respect. Each character, irrelevant of social status, respects one another. There is a common respect for seniors in the community, whether they be parents or elderly citizens. It truly defines who the characters are and is a valuable take away from the show – a lesson for many.

This is obviously not the original production, where Lin-Manuel Miranda himself stared in the role of Usnavi. It neither is the cast that led the show to its four Tony Awards. As a result, having high expectations would be quite naive. However, with that said, the company has done a splendid job! The cast members put on fantastic performances truly shinning in their respective roles. From the company of 23, three individuals really stood out. Robert Ramirez provides a brilliant performance in the role of Sonny, bringing to the role a perfect balance of comedic elements and physical actions. Christina Aranda goes above and beyond in her role as Abuela Claudia, giving a truly riveting performance that keeps one truly engaged. Finally, there’s Tauren Hagan who portrays the “well-informed” salon owner Daniela. Her performance is genuinely captivating, with amazing vocals and attitude, bringing an exciting oomph to the show.

In The Heights combines lights, dance & a whole lot of character to showcase the Dominican-American culture. You get to tap into a community and the individuals within it to see their daily challenges, their personal values and their individual dreams. What Lin-Manuel Miranda has created is a show that will entertain you and make you feel good at the same time. Its a jam session you will not forget.

In The Heights plays the Toronto Centre for the Arts until February 19th 2012. Please visit for ticket and show information. Don’t forget to tweet your experiences on twitter with @Dancap in your tweet.