Not much happens in "In the Heights," the 2008 Tony-winning musical that is spending the week at the Providence Performing Arts Center. It's a sweet show that celebrates life in the vibrant Washington Heights neighborhood of New York, where taggers roam the streets and the salsa music flows non-stop.
But there is plenty going on musically. Lin-Manuel Miranda's infectious score is fabulous, and in this tour you'll find some knockout voices.
Both Lexi Lawson as Vanessa the beautician, and Genny Lis Padilla, the evening's Niña, daughter of a cab company owner who has big dreams, caught fire. These are singers who know how to shape a tune, and deliver the goods when called for.
The whole cast, though, was made up of strong singers, including Elise Santora as Abuela Claudia, the queen of the neighborhood. Looking at Santora's gray hair, you might expect a delicate, even frail sound. But she was amazing in "Paciencia y Fe," or "Patience and Faith," words to live by in the barrio. When she opened her mouth it was hard to believe that such a powerful, rich voice belonged to her.
"In the Heights" has something of an unlikely history. Miranda conceived of the show when he was a sophomore at Wesleyan, and teamed up with a couple of schoolmates, who started their own production company when they graduated.
Their goal was to take "In the Heights" to New York, and there were many drafts along the way as the creative team tried to turn a student project into a Tony winner. When it was decided that Miranda was to play affable bodega owner Usnavi in New York, playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes was brought on board to write the book.
It was Hudes who brought much of the neighborhood feel to the piece, which is reminiscent of "West Side Story," with its two central lovers coming from different cultures and having to overcome family objections.
Niña, who lost her scholarship to Stanford because she had to hold down two jobs and couldn't keep up with her studies, has returned home and become cozy with Benny, the non-Hispanic dispatcher for her father's cab company. But Niña's father, who wants to sell the company to cover his daughter's tuition, doesn't want Nicholas Christopher's Benny, anywhere near Nina, and tensions mount when Benny and Niña end up spending the night together.
Basically, "In the Heights" is celebration of home, of an ever-evolving neighborhood. Even though he has dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, especially after his store is looted during a power outage, Usnavi, played by a rapping Joseph Morales, finds the Heights is where he belongs.
Another big plus to this show is Anna Louizos' realistic set of detail-rich shops and businesses in the shadow of the towering George Washington Bridge.
Backing up the show's exceptional voices was a pulsing 10-piece orchestra made up of keyboards, brass, percussion and reeds.
Really, "In the Heights" is hard to resist. It's got lots of energy, a great sense of ensemble and a score to die for. Brave the snow and see it.
In the Heights" runs through Sunday at the Providence Performing Arts Center, 220 Weybosset St., Providence. Tickets are $68-$41. Call (401) 421-2787, or visit www.ppacri.org.