Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lin-Manuel Miranda's "Into the Heights"

Energetic dancing, rousing music, memorable songs, a story that shows its emotions on the sleeve, "Into the Heights" deserves its Best Musical Tony Award I discovered at the Richard Rodgers Theatre yesterday afternoon. Miranda, who grew up with his abuela in Washington Heights, started writing the musical when he was a sophomore at Wesleyan, and it performed on Off-Broadway before moving into the Great White Way. I especially enjoyed the crystalline voice of Janet Dacal (Nina) and the smoky singing of Christopher Jackson (Benny), who played lovers. David del Rio (Sonny) had great comic timing.

The theater was packed with school groups, and there was plenty of whistling and sighing when Nina and Benny kissed, with a nod to West Side Story, on a balcony. Somehow the good-natured catcalls belonged to this stage re-creation del barrio as much as the salsa horn lines, bachata guitar lines and hip-hop. If the song "We are Powerless" was as much about political helplessness as it was about an electrical blackout, the typical optimism of musical theater was here suffused with the youthful aspiration of a rising generation.

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