By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
It's a very interesting and credible dilemma. Even with the modest scholarship, she was working two jobs. Will her livid dad — when he calms down — sell the business to pay for her return to California?
That would leave a lot of people unemployed, including African-American Benny (Rogelio Douglas Jr.). So is the fling she has with Benny (setting off her dad like a keg of dynamite) about love or is it about Benny's eye to the main chance? Why does he really yearn to belong to the family that has more in their savings account than his? Benny's crisis is he's been adopted into the family there, and now threatens to be kicked out. "It's not family," Kevin barks at him. "It's just business."
Meanwhile, Usnavi has the hots for Vanessa, a young local flame who wants out of the barrio. There's an appealing ennui in Sabrina Sloan's portrayal of Vanessa's anguish.
There's also a beauty shop next to the bodega — gossip central, where a recurring musical motif contains the lyric, "Tell me something I don't know."
In Act 1, before the plots start unfolding and unraveling, there's an earthy beauty to these simple situations, which feel just as authentic as the music, and to Andy Blankenbuehler's vivacious choreography, which serves up the feeling of a block party.
(Nice rendition also by Elise Santora as Usnavi's Abuela Claudia.)
In a plot development, they're all held hostage by a regional blackout ("powerless," they sing); Usnavi's bodega gets looted, which is enough to have him thinking of moving out. This is a district poised for gentrification.
The resolutions to almost all these tangles are unwaveringly cloying and sentimental. They call it a "feel good" musical, but this kind of "feel good" churns the bile. Were Act 1 pitched as a telenovela with hints of self-mockery, it might have sustained as a parody of itself, but the story circles aimlessly for much of Act 2 before plunging into a parody of itself.
This is why those questions of authenticity and exploitation linger. The exploitation isn't so much of the people from Washington Heights, even if the producers gave away tickets to them — the musical could just as easily be coined as an homage. Stories like this don't exploit ethnicity, they exploit the depths of anguish that shape the lives of everybody who's struggling to get by in this tempestuous economy. The fake resolutions and sentimental answers that this musical serves up offer neither veracity nor the kind of hope any intelligent person could believe in.
IN THE HEIGHTS | Composed by and featuring LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA, book by QUIRA ALEGRÍA HUDES | PANTAGES THEATER, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hlywd. | Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; through July 11 | (213) 365-3500