Sounds lofty, doesn’t it? The Heights! I wasn’t sure if this acclaimed Broadway show was about society folks. Long story short, it ain’t.
Set in Washington Heights, New York, an uptown ‘barrio’ located near the George Washington Bridge, the set was realistically portrayed as an economically deprived urban neighborhood. Stores encased by steel gates, decorated by graffiti, the residents gathered in the streets to share their lives: good and bad, but mostly, their dreams of ‘moving on up.’
Most had wound up there as a result of native Latino homelands being void of any potential for work. As happens with most immigrants, it left them searching for better lives in the US. But life in a tenement isn’t necessarily better. Close quarters, a lack of modern conveniences has them searching for a breath of fresh air, as they head outdoors in early July, hoping to catch a little heat relief. And that’s when the tale of each life began to unfold.
One of the main characters, Nina, had given up on her scholarship to Stanford when work got a little too tough. Her parents, owners of radio-dispatched taxi service, frustrated by her actions, try to persuade her to return, even selling their life-long business. Further controversy erupts when her African American boyfriend, Benny, gets a little too serious.
Usnavi, the bodega owner and male lead wants out. So too does Vanessa, the sexpot who works in the local salon. These characters are surrounded by a supporting staff that add a realistic tone to an urban enclave, including ebonics, whose hip-hop tone left the older audience members a little confused. But the message was clear. Everyone wants a better life—for their kids, for themselves. And in ethnic, urban neighborhoods, there is often a maternal figure who offers advice and keeps an eye on the activities on the block. Enter Abuela (ie. grandma); the overweight woman in her housecoat. Also in the same life predicament, Abuela plays the lottery and one day, is lucky enough to hit for some 90,000+ dollars. And here’s where the lesson comes in.
Abuela, a generous woman, has plans to share the wealth with her neighbors. It sure does help move them all a little closer to realizing their dreams. But when Abuela suddenly passes away from a heart attack, things on the block begin to change. Life has shifted. The caretaker is gone. The wise overseer is no more. And each character must evaluate their own life change as well.
Life is fragile. It is short. And Nina decides to finish her dream and return to school in California. Usnavi (who’s named after a U.S. Navy boat that passed by in the ocean) realizes that leaving will not make life better, just different. So he decides to hunker down and use the money to rebuild his business (which had been looted during a blackout), and thus, make the neighborhood a little better. Vanessa moves downtown to a better neighborhood in Manhattan, but still close enough to return often. Benny goes in search of his own dream, and the owner of the neighborhood salon is picking up and moving to the Bronx.
What does home mean? What value does it hold in your life? Can you ever come home again? What does life feel like when you return home? In the Heights raises it all. With a modern, hip-hop score, it has you bopping and swaying—though trying to keep up with the lyrics.
I give it a two thumbs up. See it if you can.