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Reaching great ‘Heights’

January 12, 2010

Published by Metro

Though new to the Boston theater scene, “In the Heights” isn’t so unfamiliar.

Audiences have heard similar Latino sounds in the classic “West Side Story.” Its musical stylings — salsa, merengue and hip-hop — are similarly groundbreaking to the pop/rock of “Rent” in the ’90s, and the show’s themes shout “Fiddler on the Roof.”

“It focuses a lot on family and community and the importance of tradition,” says Kyle Beltran, who plays lead character Usnavi. “People compare Usnavi a lot to Tevya [from “Fiddler”] because in a lot of ways, he’s a Dominican Tevya.”

Like Tevya, Usnavi is not only the lead, but also a sort of narrator, introducing the show’s neighborhood and inhabitants. Usnavi owns a bodega in Washington Heights, where he dreams of a better life and of moving back to the Dominican Republic.

But unlike Tevya, Usnavi communicates mostly through rap, says Beltran.

“Usnavi expresses himself through hip-hop. It’s lyrical poetry, a lot like Shakespeare, actually.”

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