A Last Look at "In the Heights"

November 21, 2010

When I first moved to New York about three years ago, I arrived in the dark of night. The Astoria one-bedroom I had seen for about 10 minutes a few months earlier, when I visited the city to apartment hunt, looked different than my memory of it: smaller, colder, more foreign.

The next morning, however, Astoria welcomed me with the smell of coffee and cookies drifting from a nearby Greek bakery. The church across the street signaled the hour with low, melodious bells. And the sun shone brightly on 30th Avenue, a place that would soon feel like home.

New York City is indeed a jammed metropolis, where anonymity reigns. It is also a patchwork of intimate communities. Broadway’s In the Heights depicts the sights, sounds and characters of Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the show’s creator, combines the familiarity that defines any place you call home with the familiarity of stock musical theater characters and devices. The show is at once surprising and comforting.

Now, like the In the Heights characters, who are in the midst of a sea change as a generation grows older and grows up, the show itself is moving on. It will close on January 9, 2011 (though it will continue in other forms, including the national tour and a forthcoming film). If you’ll be in NYC between now and then, see the show. It won’t disappoint. And if you catch any of the performances from Christmas day on, you’ll see Miranda playing Usnavi, the role he originated and for which he earned a 2008 Tony Award nomination.