In The Heights
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★★★½ "The main character in the 2008 Broadway musical 'In the Heights' is not a person at all — it's the neighborhood, mostly Dominican-American, that sits atop Manhattan in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge. Washington Heights, you might think, is a long way from Aurora, Ill., but, in fact, the second most populous city in Illinois now is about one-third Latino. You do not generally find that proportion in the audiences at the Paramount Theatre, but diversity in the performing arts usually follows the programming, and the word just will need to get out. It's already old news that the Paramount's audacious notion that it could produce its own Broadway musicals — using mostly Chicago talent, more effectively than the cheap split-week tours it had been previously been booking — has given forth remarkable fruit. 'In the Heights' is no exception. I've seen this show four times and, while there is no replacing Miranda as the lead storyteller, in some ways I enjoyed this one the most of all. Director Rachel Rockwell has found some remarkable young talent, deftly balanced between singers and dancers. And, forged away from the hierarchical world of Broadway, the company coalesces better as a true ensemble, a common story in Chicago. As Rockwell has staged the piece, you'd struggle to delineate the leads. Backed by a full-size orchestra using the original Broadway orchestrations, the performances here really are first-rate. Katie Spelman's admirably varied choreography is generally less frenetic than the original, and it helps contribute to the show's sophisticated ebb and flow, wherein dancers have time to relate to one another and flesh out their characters, rather than being consumed by the need to execute. About the only significant disappointment here is the set from the second national company. Certainly, 'In the Heights,' which uses a kind of romantic realism, is a tricky design challenge, but to see Chicago designers execute such a challenge is why some of us jump on the Ronald Reagan Expressway."—Chris Jones