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Taking Dreams to the Heights in L.A. Premiere of Broadway Favorite

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Creator/Lead Lin-Manuel Miranda as Usnavi in In the Heights | Photo by Joan Marcus
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By Stephanie Taylor, Special to LAistA sassy amalgamation of New York street smarts and Latin soul with a little Spanglish thrown in for authenticity, In the Heights makes its Los Angeles premiere at the Pantages with a recently extended run through July 25. A Broadway favorite and winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best New Musical, In the Heights is a light-hearted examination of the hopes and dreams of a mostly Dominican Republic and Puerto Rican community in the upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights.

It seems everyone in this slowly gentrifying neighborhood has but one goal: to leave the barrio that they believe entraps them. Usnavi, played by lyricist and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda in all but a handful of performances, runs the corner deli/coffee shop/grocery store. Simply trying to make the numbers add up, while also trying to scramble up the courage to ask out longtime crush Vanessa (played by Sabrina Sloan through July 4), the affable Usnavi serves as the resident sage as well as a father figure to his orphaned cousin who also works in his shop.

Oblivious to Usnavi’s feelings, Vanessa is consumed by her own longing to move downtown and escape the barrio - and all its intrinsic encumbrances such as her dysfunctional, alcoholic mother. Nina (Arielle Jacobs) is the stereotypical smart girl, the one who appeared destined to make it, until she reveals she lost her scholarship to Stanford because she couldn’t work and study at the same time. Battling familial and personal expectations and falling for her father’s employee, Benny (as played by Rogelio Douglas Jr.), Nina represents the inevitable disappointment that comes when everything you ever wanted was within arm’s reach, yet still slips away. And you’re not so sure you can get it back.