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‘In the Heights’ is an absolute highlight of the season

It’s easy to be cynical, especially this time of year, and especially after seeing a bevy of holiday shows letting you know how happy and joyful you are supposed to be for the next four weeks. So I wasn’t sure how I would react to “In the Heights,” the 2008 Tony-Award-Winning musical that landed at the Orpheum Theatre Tuesday night.

Well, despite a silly and contrived plot, this trip to the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan touched me in an unexpected way. Through Lin-Manuel Miranda’s winning score and lyrics and terrific performances from stem to stern, “In The Heights” proved to be an absolute highlight of the season.

Washington Heights — near the “top” of Manhattan on the Upper West Side — has long been an immigrant neighborhood. Here, families from various Latin American countries have settled, all trying to make their new life in the United States. The story turns on Usnavi, a young man with roots to the Dominican Republic who runs a corner store, and Nina, whose attempt to leave the neighborhood and attend Stanford has ended in seeming defeat.

Over a long and hot Fourth of July holiday the various tendrils of the plot play out — including a winning lottery ticket that someone in the neighborhood has bought. As I noted above, it’s all a bit silly, but the characters, from the leads on down to the minor players, are all brimming with life. And while the details of the story may not be the best, the overall message — about making the best of the place you call home — is impossible to deny.

Miranda’s score soaks in the mingled cultures, creating a delightful mix of bright Latin, hip-hop and American influences. Even the more traditional Broadway ballads have a distinct lilt to them. His lyrics seem equally strong, though the overmiked sound often makes it hard to hear them clearly. Led by the lanky Kyle Beltran as Usnvai and the striking Arielle Jacobs as Nini, the entire company creates a colorful, joyful racket that is impossible to take in all at once.

“In the Heights” triumphs through its own undeniable energy and charm — and while it’s set at a different holiday, it’s somehow perfect for the current season.

“In the Heights” runs through Sunday, Dec. 6, at the Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis. Tickets are $28 to $78, plus $20 student rush. For more information and tickets, visit online.

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