WHAT “In the Heights”
WHEN|WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. Sunday through July 31 at Cultural Arts Playhouse, 170 Michael Dr., Syosset
TICKETS $25 ($20 advance), 516-694-3330, culturalartsplayhouse.com
“Hamilton” fever reached a high-octane/high-octave pitch between its June 12 Tony Awards triumph and the July 9 departure of its creator and title role star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Unless you take out a second mortgage for a ticket to “Hamilton” or wait until Miranda’s next appearance — in “Mary Poppins”!? — you’re out of luck in catching a glimpse of his genius anytime soon.
Except, remember, he had another Tony-winning best musical. “In the Heights” has enjoyed a regional theater afterlife since its 2008 Broadway debut and subsequent national tours. Now it makes another Long Island appearance at this opportune moment.
Cultural Arts Playhouse’s exuberantly athletic ensemble substitutes break-dance moves for chorus-line kicks while leading-role players sell their rap-to-merengue tunes with a conviction that echoes Miranda’s experience growing up a few blocks north of Washington Heights. (“In the Inwood” just doesn’t ring lyrically.)
Niko Touros as Usnavi, the orphaned son of Dominican immigrants in a role originated by Miranda, sets the tone in the let’s-meet-neighbors opening number, and in his soul-baring “Alabanza,” delivered as a eulogy to the neighborhood matriarch, Abuela, who raised him. (His parents named their firstborn after the first English words they noticed in New York Harbor — “U.S. Navy” emblazoned on the side of a ship.)
Taneisha Corbin as Abuela ratifies in song the love her people feel for her. As Nina, Veronica Fox lets us share her humiliation — everyone was rooting for her — in a soon-to-close hair salon with girls demanding in a hip-hop refrain: “Tell me something I don’t know.”
“I dropped out of Stanford,” she says, dropping a bombshell they didn’t see coming.
Her father proposes to sell the family’s limo service to bankroll Nina’s return to Stanford. Meanwhile, his dispatcher, Benny (Tyler Belo), tries to bed her. Usnavi displays similar intentions toward hairdresser Vanessa (Ariana Morales), who ardently believes her future lies downtown.
Director Bruce Grossman and choreographer Eliana K-Lichtman steer this chaos into a cacophony of determination that reflects an uplifting portrait of Hispanic immigrants.
Two gripes: Recorded tracks can’t match the live orchestra of the most recent Long Island production, at CM Performing Arts Center, and the anchoring image of the George Washington Bridge, defining the neighborhood visually, disappears whenever the backdrop changes color, at times revealing such cues as “Press ESC.” Oops.
Otherwise “Heights” soars to its intended elevation.