Bodega ballads

Graffiti Pete (left) just can't stay away from his favorite canvas, the De La Vega Bodega. (Photo courtesy of Charr Crail Photography)

Before Hamilton, before Bring It On: The Musical, there was In the Heights.

By Jim Carnes

It’s easy to see where Hamilton came from. He was born In the Heights. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music and lyrics for both these breakthrough hip-hop musicals.

Miranda wrote the first draft of In the Heights in 1999 while a second-year college student. It was set in the largely Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City, and was initially without the rap and salsa music that are now its signature attributes.

The play opened on Broadway in March 2008 and won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Choreography.

It’s also the final production of this summer’s Music Circus series. It’s new and different, and much about it may be unfamiliar to the regular Music Circus patron. It’s a different rhythm, to be sure.

Most of the characters are of Dominican or Puerto Rican heritage, and the dialogue is peppered with the language of the barrio. Those struggling financially, barely hanging on, yet industriously trying to make a go of it illustrate the best of America’s immigrant population.

Rodolfo Soto stars as Usnavi, a bodega owner constantly bedeviled by broken equipment and graffiti vandalism (courtesy of Edward Cuellar as Graffiti Pete). The delightful David Merino plays Usnavi’s “assistant” Sonny, whose one good idea saves the day and the neighborhood. That and the deus ex machina of Abuela Claudia’s (Rayanne Gonzales) lottery ticket.

The second act is less raucous and tells more story, but the production sometimes feels as if the actors are “performing” rather than inhabiting their roles.

Showtimes: Wed 7:30pm, Thu 2pm & 7:30pm, Fri 7:30pm, Sat 2pm & 7:30pm, Sun 3pm; Through 8/25;  $45-$91; The Wells Fargo Pavilion, 1419 H St., (916) 557-1999,

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