The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

‘In The Heights’ spans cultures, genres


Described as a modern “West Side Story,” The Skylight Music Theater’s newest musical, “In the Heights,” opening Friday, paints the story of Caribbean-Americans living in the Washington Heights village of New York City.

The vibrant, upbeat, new musical has taken the nation by storm with its bold, unapologetic characters and unique music arrangements, featuring a number of genres ranging from salsa and merengue influences to freestyle rap. The heavily Spanish-based script and score, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and based off of the novel by Quiara Alegría Hudes, only add to the diversity and authenticity of the show.

According to The Skylight’s Artistic Director Viswa Subbaraman, the show is different from any that came before it at Skylight Theater. 

“I think the show is an honest look at family and home. It’s beautiful and uplifting,” Subbaraman said. “It might be the best new musical of the past 10 years.”

The show is focused around two characters, named Usnavi and Nina, who are looking for a place to fit in. Nina has just returned from Stanford University, where her scholarship ran out. With no money, she is forced to reconcile with giving up on her dream and the possibility of having to stay in Washington Heights forever.

Usnavi, on the other hand, always wanted to return to his true home in the Dominican Republic. He struggles with the pull between his roots and the vibrancy of his family and friends in the barrio. Nina and Usnavi are looking for their true homes, in the metaphorical and physical sense. Their family and friends are simultaneously struggling to stay afloat but manage to support Usanavi and Nina.

The Skylight’s production doesn’t skimp on the authenticity of the characters. Subbaraman said many of the actors in this production have a close connection to the show. For actress Rana Roman, portraying Nina is a role she dreamed of.

“She has wanted to do this show for years,” Subbaraman said.

Tommy Rivera Vega, who plays Usnavi, was born in Puerto Rico but grew up in the United States, adding a personal dimension to his performance.

In a world of theater lacking in diversity, Subbaraman said many of the actors in this production think they have an edge while performing in the show.

“As one of the actors said to me,” Subbaraman said, “’I’ve been told for years that nobody wants to see a Latina Cinderella in a musical. They do want to see Latinos play ‘In the Heights.'”

The Skylight tries to make each show as unique and original as possible. In its performance space, the Cabot Theatre, viewers are up close and personal with the actors, giving the experience an intimate, individualized feel. Each show has different elements that set them apart from Broadway productions of the musicals and plays.

“We don’t start with the show’s Broadway choreography or staging,” Subbaraman said. “We stage it from the ground up, so the show is different from one you can see elsewhere.”

The raw and true natures of the show add to its relatability. Viewers have likely experienced firsthand many of the events and emotions portrayed in “In the Heights.”

“Every one of us has dated someone our parents don’t like, has been broke, has dreamed of being somewhere else, has seen a family member pass away and has been burdened by others’ expectations of us,” Subbaraman said.

This tale of the American Dream in the eyes of second-generation immigrants is told in such a high-energy way that is contagious and addicting. Not only has The Skylight given it features and highlights that are unique to the Milwaukee theater company, but the show sparkles and shines with talented, mostly local, actors. The script and score will stay with the viewers both in its addicting choruses and its pertinent message.

Story continues below advertisement
Leave a Comment
More to Discover

Comments (0)

All Marquette Wire Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *