Pauper Player’s In the Heights meets high expectations

Cast members hold up flags from various Spanish-speaking countries. In the musical, the majority of the neighbors in Washington Heights are from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. (Photo used by permission of Drake Broussard.)

Pauper players, UNC’s student-run musical theatre company, presented In the Heights, a musical by Lin Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes on April 7 through April 10.

The musical takes place in Washington Heights, a neighborhood in New York with a large number of Latino inhabitants. The main character, Usnavi de la Vega (played by Jonathan Olivares), runs a small shop in the neighborhood, like many of his neighbors in Washington Heights. Usnavi and the other residents are like a family; even though they are not related, they are a close-knit community.

Because my grandmother and mother grew up in Puerto Rico–where many of the characters in the show were originally from before traveling to the United States–it was really interesting to see the similarities between life “back home” and in the United States.

Throughout the show, we meet more characters living in the community. My personal favorite was Daniela, an over-the-top salon owner, played by Natalie Caro. The best word I can think of to describe her is in Spanish: chismosa, or gossipy. All the girls in Washington Heights come to her salon to hear the latest gossip. Daniela sings my favorite number in the show, No Me Digas, where she tells Nina the latest gossip she missed while she was away.

One unique aspect of In the Heights is that it includes a lot of rapping. Many of Lin Manuel Miranda’s shows include some form of rap, and it made for some really interesting and engaging musical numbers.

However, in such a small venue, the band often overpowered the cast, and made it difficult to hear.

Overall, I really enjoyed In the Heights. I loved how the show had a balance of both English and Spanish. From my Spanish classes at Leesville and from hearing my family speak “spanglish” at home, I could see just how accurately the musical portrayed life in such a small, close, Hispanic community. No matter how familiar you are with Spanish language and culture, In the Heights is a must-see musical.

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