The Gateway Playhouse “In the Heights” is the Hottest Ticket in Town

In the Heights
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Long before Lin-Manuel Miranda blew the world away with his long-running smash-hit “Hamilton,” he rocked the world with “In the Heights.” This Latin-infused Broadway musical, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, was nominated in 2008 for a whopping 13 Tony Awards, winning four, including Best Musical.

The play unfolds during a heatwave “at the break of day” on July 3 as a close-knit upper Manhattan community prepares for their workday. The Fourth of July follows with a spectacular fireworks display in the night sky. Independence Day was an apt metaphor for this neighborhood filled with people seeking to escape oppression from the day-to-day struggle to survive. The residents are predominantly immigrants from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic; however, during the showstopping tune, “Carnaval del Barrio,” the ensemble danced with flags from many other Spanish-speaking countries around the globe.

The Gateway wisely chose to use the original, Tony-nominated Broadway set design by Anna Louizos. Her architecturally magnificent cityscape captured the timeless aspect of modern urban life. This fantastic set features towering brick tenements with metal terraces, a front stoop to sit on, realistic storefronts with their requisite roll-down security grates, functional streetlights, a working fire hydrant, an entrance to the 181 Street subway on the corner, and the George Washington Bridge looming like a manmade mountain in the background.

The soulful musical pulses, pounds, and gyrates with an eclectic score featuring a vibrant blend of hip-hop, salsa, Latin pop, meringue, samba, rap, and jazz. Brilliantly directed and choreographed by Vincent Ortega, with musical direction by Andrew Haile Austin, The Gateway’s polished-to-perfection production had the entire cast sizzling and popping with electrifying chemistry.

Mateus Barbosa da Silva gave an award-worthy performance as Graffiti Pete. He opens the show by breakdancing and spray-painting graffiti on the side of the bodega. Graffiti Pete eventually redeems himself by creating a memorial with his urban art.

Ryan Alvarado, a masterful performer with stellar vocals, was perfectly cast as Usnavi de la Vega. Alvarado, a veteran Long Island actor, just finished the U.S. National tour of “Hamilton,” where he played the eponymous title role. Alvarado brought charm and depth to his portrayal of Usnavi, the protagonist and narrator of the story. Although Usnavi owns a local bodega, he longs to return to his native home in the Dominican Republic.

Chelsea Zeno was outstanding as Vanessa, Usnavi’s love interest. She works at the local unisex salon but dreams of a better life. Zeno’s duet with Alvarado, “Champagne,” was one of the high points of the show.

Felipe Cristancho Rodriguez, a natural-born comedian, was likable as Usnavi’s cocky teenage cousin, Sonny. With his hilarious facial expressions and comic dance moves, Rodriguez received some of the evening’s biggest laughs.

Sydia Cedeño gave a riveting performance as Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood matriarch who emigrated from Cuba, leaving behind everything she once knew and loved. With her charismatic stage presence and powerhouse vocals, Cedeño gave an unforgettable rendition of the tender yet heartbreaking song “Paciencia y Fe.”

Rubén Flores as Kevin Rosario and Francisca Muñoz as Camila, his wife, displayed great onstage chemistry. Alia Munsch gave a standout performance as their daughter, Nina, a college student who just returned home from Stanford University with disappointing news. Muñoz blew the audience away with her powerful vocals during “Enough,” a song in which she painfully revealed her frustration over being a wife and mother forced to mediate between her stubborn husband and strong-willed daughter. Munsch delivered a pitch-perfect rendition of the beautiful ballad “Breathe.” Flores, revealing his character’s softer side, performed a heartrending version of the breathtaking song, “Atención”

Christian Brailsford, a vibrant and dynamic actor, portrayed Benny, the only non-Latino member of the neighborhood. Benny is in love with Nina, and even though her father disapproves, he is determined to win her over. Act II opened on a hot, hot, hot note when Brailsford, shirtless, stepped onto the terrace. The women in the audience audibly oohed and aahed as they visually soaked in his sculpted body. Brailsford and Munsch’s heartfelt duet, “Sunrise,” was another show highlight.

Michelle Alves rocked the role of Daniela, the hot tamale unisex salon owner who delivers an earful of gossip with every cut and blowout. Alves set the stage on fire with her effervescent rendition of the show’s catchiest song, “Carnaval del Barrio.” Juliana Andrea Betancur, as Carla, Daniela’s delightful but dimwitted sidekick, commanded the stage with her charismatic presence and spot-on comedic timing.

Javier Garcia plays Piragua Guy, a likable vendor who spends his days selling flavored shaved ice, barely scraping by ever since Mister Softee invaded his territory. Garcia stole the show with his sassy rendition of “Piragua,” showcasing his strong vocals and smooth Latin dance moves.

The rest of the multi-talented ensemble includes Bryan Ernesto Menjivar as José, Marina Vidal as Yolanda, Emily Anne Goes as Doreen, Stemarciae Bain as Gladys, Manuela Agudelo as Yesenia, Rodolfo Santamarina as Tito, Jorge Echeverria as Julio, Sienna Reefer as Selena, and Pragun Bhardwaj as Domingo. The talented youth players, Emilia Birmelin and Keno Gutierrez, added a touch of innocence and sparkle to the show.

This must-see show runs through April 14, 2024. To purchase tickets, contact the Box Office at (631) 286-1133 or visit the website at