In The Heights

The toast of Broadway attempts to show a grittier side of New York City, but fails to deliver.

BY Mike Diamond

April 14 2008 12:00 AM ET

The tone of the
musical numbers vacillates wildly, from heavy-handed and
maudlin to Disney World–on–crack
free-for-alls. Some of the more high-energy production
numbers do work: Act 1’s closer, "The
Club/Fireworks" is a dazzling group effort -- the
choreography is kinetic and sometimes breathtaking,
and it is here that the music works to advance the
story as well.

Unfortunately,
the show never reaches those "heights" again. Act 2
opens with -- and wallows in -- one saccharine tune
after another. As the second act lurches toward its
climax we are assaulted by one sophomoric, dirgelike
song after another, all of them wallowing in
self-pity. Does it never occur to these characters to hop on
the Downtown train if they want a better job? The show
is limited by its very setting: Actors swirl toward
and storm away from this street corner endlessly,
yet all this chaos does nothing to open up the scope of the
story. I felt trapped on this corner with them.

While there were
some likeable moments -- pushcart-slushie-selling
Piragua Guy (Eliseo Roman) was a crowd-pleaser, and the
spirited number "Carnaval del Barrio" was fun --
ultimately the show isn't memorable. None of the
melodies are memorable once the curtain goes
down, and the story doesn't ring true. It’s a far too
sanitized portrayal of a neighborhood in decline --
where are the muggings, the rapes, the drug addicts?
It’s a Pollyanna version of life in El
Barrio. In the Heights comes across as West
Side Story
meets Sesame Street. At any moment
I half expected a singing cockroach Muppet to jump out
from behind a fire hydrant.

Tags: Theater

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