American dreams

By CAROLYN CLAY  |  January 19, 2010

All of this is enacted on the BU stage with a blistering believability that does not flinch from the play's near-operatic anguish. Esbjornson even throws in a brief, ghostly interlude that prefigures the visits, in Death of a Salesman, of Willy's long-dead Uncle Ben. Lyman, if closer in type to Atticus Finch than to Joe Keller, nonetheless creates a bullish charmer with a quick defensive trigger that melts like hot metal into a puddle of bewildered grief. MacDonald conveys motherly beatitude and near-animal suffering with equal conviction. Lee Aaron Rosen is an Eagle Scout Agonistes of a Chris and Diane Davis an adamant if giggly Ann in a production that proves, however out of fashion the moral crusader who married Marilyn Monroe might have been, it's Miller time in America once again.

The café-con-Lotto musical In the Heights (at the Opera House through January 24) is as sweet as the condensed milk in its coffee or a winning lottery ticket. Critic Charles Isherwood aptly describes the 2008 Tony-winning show set in the Latino-dominated Upper Manhattan enclave of Washington Heights as a "musical valentine to the barrio." Indeed, don't look for poison pen smeared across the paper heart of this infectious show by Inwood native Lin-Manuel Miranda and book writer Quiara Alegría Hudes — in the Heights of Miranda's experience, criminal activity is restricted to attempted graffiti, and sex smacks of Tony and Maria soaring toward "Tonight."

A semi-autobiographical offering that began life when Miranda was a sophomore at Wesleyan, opened Off Broadway in 2007, and arrived on Broadway a year later, In the Heights serves as an introduction to the talented composer/lyricist, who also starred in the original production (and will reprise his role in the upcoming Universal film). Miranda rhymes drolly and lays Broadway pop across Latin rhythms ranging from hip-hop and rap to salsa and merengue. Oh, and in case you weren't aware, those musics — whether you're a kid showing up for salsa night or an athletic and sinuous terpsichorean — are pretty good to dance to.

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IN THE HEIGHTS: Don’t go looking for verisimilitude or complexity and your toes will be kept a-tap.

The score of In the Heights trumps its sentimental story, which centers on corner-bodega owner Usnavi, a charming, squeaky-clean fellow who employs his would-be lothario of a young cousin and is himself enamored of Vanessa, a local hottie whose aspirations toward downtown rival those of Petula Clark. Next door are some saucy broads who run a hair salon that, with gentrification on its heels, is about to relocate to the Bronx. Across the intersection is a successful cab service run by the Rosarios, whose high-achieving daughter, the pride of the neighborhood, has just encountered trouble at Stanford. Something is heating up between African-American Benny, right-hand to the Rosarios, and daughter Nina, and Dad doesn't like it one bit. Presiding over all is warm-hearted gambling grandma Abuela Claudia, whose lottery winnings will allow various characters to reconsider the merits of home and community — even as their neighborhood is being priced out of existence.

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