In The Heights – Original Broadway Cast Recording

track listing

Disc 1:
1. In The Heights
2. Breathe
3. Benny’s Dispatch
4. It Won’t Be Long Now
5. Inutil
6. No Me Diga
7. 96,000
8. Pacienca Y Fe (Patience and Faith)
9. When You’re Home
10. Piragua
11. The Club
12. Blackout

Disc 2:
1. Sunrise
2. Hundreds of Stories
3. Enough
4. Carnaval Del Barrio
5. Atencion
6. Alabanza
7. Everything I Know
8. Piragua (Reprise)
9. Champagne
10. When the Sun Goes Down
11. Finale
In lieu of an actual trip uptown to the barrio this summer – one that may prove more than a little disconcerting for non-Spanish-speakers like myself – the cast recording of In The Heights should provide just the necessary jolt of white-hot Latin heat to last through the sticky months of summer – and then some.

Though In The Heights largely sanitizes the gritty lives of the Washington Heights characters it chronicles, Broadway, where Latino themes are still largely unchartered territory, has welcomed recent Best Musical Tony-winner In The Heights with open arms.

In The Heights, which, like Passing Strange this season, stars its composer-lyricist – here the up-and-coming talent Lin-Manuel Miranda – is a vibrant musical love song to Washington Heights, the Manhattan neighborhood way uptown that plays host to Miranda and book writer Quiara Alegria Hudes’s workaday characters. Miranda plays Usnavi, owner of a corner bodega and one of the neighborhood’s most upstanding citizens. Against the backdrop of his romance with fiery Vanessa is set the story of Nina – recently returned from her freshman year at Stanford and majorly confused – and her love interest Benny. But as tense as things get between these pairs of young lovers, things are truly shaken up when Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood’s mother figure, wins the lottery and decides to share the wealth.

Also like Passing Strange, In The Heights is very much an exploration of personal identity. Usnavi and Nina both dream of returning to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, from which their respective parents emigrated, forging new lives for their children. Abuela Claudia, in her powerhouse Pacienca Y Fe, recounts the story of her mother’s passage to the U.S. and sings about the dreams she’s inherited. Jobs were the essential bounty found by those transplanted so far from home, and even now the second generation is struggling with the same concerns. Nina wonders whether to stay true to her roots or make her way to the top at Stanford while Usnavi runs his corner store and Benny considers business school.

It may not sound like the stuff of great drama, but the material is consistently treated sensitively enough to exude a vibrant sense of authenticity through attention to the detail of characters.

This sensitivity is even apparent on the show’s cast album. Though the chorus sounds often seem underwhelming – particularly in big numbers like the opener In The Heights and one of the show’s showstoppers, 96,000 – there are many individual performances here to be savored. Besides for Miranda as Usnavi, Mandy Gonzalez and Christopher Jackson as Nina and Benny respectively have appealing voices suited to their roles as romantic ingnues. Andrea Burns provides sassy female support as Daniela, and Karen Olivo as Vanessa is a major find; she raises the proverbial roof with her rendition of It Won’t Be Long early on the first disc.

Fittingly, the score is a cross between American hip-hop traditions and distinctly Latin sounds. The impressively lustrous orchestrations – by Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman – are heavy on percussion and punctuated punchily by brass instrumentation. And though Spanish language lyrics abound, peppered into the score like sprinkles of seasoning for the palate, In The Heights is far from incomprehensible – in fact, it’s intoxicating as a cool drink on a hot day. Somehow, Miranda manages to allow Cole Porter and Duke Ellington references, as in the eponymous opening number, to sit comfortably alongside rapped interludes. It’s a credit to the talent of Lin-Manuel Miranda that it all seems so fresh. Sit back, relax, and enjoy over ice.

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