‘In the Heights’: An American musical with Latin, hip hop beats
El Hispanic News Writer
Portland, OR — For a Cuban American actor who is often cast in Jewish roles, “In the Heights” has been a gift from Broadway heaven.
“There are more Hispanics in this show than I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with,” Oscar Cheda says. “It’s one of those rare occasions where we get to play Hispanics as Hispanics.”
Conceived by composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda when he was a sophomore in college, “In the Heights” is a multiple Tony-winning musical set in an immigrant neighborhood of New York called Washington Heights. Currently running on Broadway as well as on a national tour, the show opened Tuesday, Oct. 19, in Portland at the Keller Auditorium, and continues through Oct. 24.
This is no “West Side Story.” Instead of gang fights, the people of “Washington Heights” are struggling with more everyday concerns such as money, love, and cultural identity. “This is a different representation of our culture and our communities nationwide,” says Cheda, who is a member of the show’s ensemble as well as an understudy for two major roles. Opening night in Portland, he filled in as Kevin Rosario, a Puerto Rican immigrant who owns a limousine service and has high hopes for his studious daughter.
The stories of the people of Washington Heights unfold on a stage made to look like a street corner, where much of the action takes place in front the neighborhood bodega or beauty salon, as well as on the fire escapes of the modest apartments above.
People spill out on the streets, interacting and telling their tales through raps, ballads, and salsa dances.
“The music and the movement and the show really help emphasize that we’re not dealing with a Midwestern town here,” Cheda says. “These are people with a culture that they celebrate.”
At the same time, Cheda emphasizes the universal aspects of the show, which drew a diverse crowd its first night in Portland.
“It’s a story about Latins, but all of the characters apply to anyone, any group,” he says. “We all have our struggles, and we’re not that different from everybody else.”
For “In the Heights” information and tickets, visit www.portlandopera.org or call the Portland Opera box office at 503-241-1802.
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