With less gritty realism and attention to societal ills than West Side Story, Lin-Manuel Miranda's contemporary immigrant story, In the Heights, gets by on its wits and rhythms. The plot -- money troubles, love troubles, apartment troubles -- offers nothing nearly as earthshaking as the tamest Ugly Betty episode. But the energy hardly ever stops pulsing. Andy Blankenbuehler's choreography sparkles; the music energizes. And most refreshingly, for a new Broadway musical, the lyrics propel the story with smart poetry and clever rhymes.
"It's all about the legacy," raps Usnavi, the young man running the bodega his parents once owned. Portrayed sweetly by Kyle Beltran, Usnavi is the hardworking son of parents who emigrated from the Dominican Republic. They named their son something aspirational -- "U.S. Navy," taken from an American boat they saw when they arrived.
Across the street Nina's parents, Kevin and Camila, have planned a big homecoming dinner to celebrate their daughter's return home from her first year at Stanford. She is the local kid who makes good, the one that made it out, the pride of the neighborhood. She can't bring herself to tell them all that she couldn't hack it at Stanford.
Arielle Jacobs is lovely and authentic as Nina, the ingenue who has disappointed her parents academically and romantically. Isabel Santiago is full of vitality as Daniela, the brassy hair salon owner who leads a spicy gossip anthem with the refrain, "tell me something I don't know." And Shaun Taylor-Corbett brings terrific comic timing to his role as Sonny, Usnavi's scrappy young cousin. They've all known each other forever.