REVIEW: In The Heights - Marina High School Theatre

Updated: Jun 20, 2020

"...Hey! Can I help it if my soul loves a kickin' beat?"

“In the Heights,” the hit musical with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (“Hamilton”) and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, was presented by Marina High School in Huntington Beach last week in a 3-day weekend run, February 21st through 23rd. The vibrant show was performed on the Huntington Beach High School Auditorium and Bell Tower Mainstage flawlessly, as Marina's excellent cast explored the joys, heartbreaks and bonds of a Latino community struggling to redefine home in rhythm and song.

If you’ve never seen “In the Heights” and think it’s probably an old-fashioned musical, you’ll get your ears opened from the amazing very first number, a pure adrenaline blast of lively Latin beats and hip-hop energy. As soon as the curtain lifts, the atmosphere crackles with electricity and it become clear that the audience isn’t just here to watch the ride - they would be on the ride. Explosions of color, movement and music ricochetes around the whole auditorium, and from the first minute attendees experience the frisson that this isn't going to be an ordinary theater experience.

The story and plot of “In the Heights,” is a heart-tugging story of family ties and the immigrant experience – in this case, the Dominican-Puerto Rican-Cuban experience in the Washington Heights area of Manhattan, – a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.

After a 2007 Off-Broadway run, the show opened on Broadway in March 2008, and was promptly nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, winning four, including the 2008 Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Choreography. A film adaptation of the musical is set for release in the summer of 2020.

Brilliantly Directed by Amber-Sky Skipps and Jodi Kimura and Produced by Artistic Director Eric Graham, the show’s Music Director was Robert Ramirez. The production features an extraordinarily talented cast of actors, singers, dancers and musicians from Marina High School who bring this big, compelling, American story to life with remarkable energy and verve. The dazzling Choreography and street dancing, under the skillful, sure-handed direction of Michael Gonzalez and Amber-Sky Skipps, included a sensational mix of hip hop and latin styles to make it both highly disciplined and intricately multicultural; the fluidity of movement on stage in the numbers was simply amazing as the ensemble danced like no one was watching and became one in unison with precise movements and meticulous timing.

With hip-hop and Latin styles of music having been fused solidly into musical theater since the dawn of “Hamilton,” this production speaks the musical language of the new generation. Hip-hop is a storytelling device - just poetry put to spoken word, and those rapid-fire hip-hop passages are very key parts of this narrative.

But Lin-Manuel Miranda’s score ranges far beyond hip-hop. He infuses the composition with salsa, Latin jazz, Latin pop and island-inflected rhythms. And there are also many numbers that might be described as good old-fashioned Broadway ballads, such as “It Won’t Be Long Now,” and “When You’re Home.”

"In the heights, I buy my coffee and I go. Set my sights on only what I need to know. In the heights, money is tight but even so, when the lights go down I blast my radio," sing the cast as one by one each colorful character is introduced.