On Sunday night, the University of North Carolina Pembroke’s Theatre Program performed In the Heights, by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The musical, set in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, follows Usnavi de la Vega and the residents of the barrio as they struggle with low-financial income, increasing gentrification, personal and familial relationships, and a devastating heat wave. Each of these elements threaten the community’s ability to remain together as they all face separate futures, while also highlighting the importance of family.

Through various contacts, the Theatre Program was able to obtain the original set that was used during the production’s original Broadway run, which was in excellent condition and allowed the performers to move freely around the stage with plenty of space. The set featured significant buildings in the neighborhood, such as Rosario’s Car and Limousine, Abuela and Usnavi’s apartment, Usnavi’s Deli and Grocery Store, and Salon Unisex. The run-down, earthy tones of these locations allowed the audience to immediately grasp the poor living conditions of many of the characters. Despite the set’s authenticity, due to the design of the auditorium, it was often difficult for people seated on the left or right sides to see the performers on the center staircase of the set.

While it would seem as though the use of the original set would intimidate the performers, the actors and actresses moved within the play with comfortability, familiarity, and ease. The directorial decision by Jonathan Drahos, Director of Theatre at UNCP, to have background characters often hanging laundry over metal balconies together or have several people crowded into a single store further brought the set to life. These choices also showed the sense of family beyond the main characters and proved that the entirety of Washington Heights is a family.

In addition to the set, each of the character’s outfits were strong indicators of their personalities. From the ill-fitting suits of the male actors, to Abuela’s ragged clothes, to the women’s too-large or too-small heels, each costume characterized the setting and character. One of the most impactful costuming decisions were the ones concerning Nina Rosario and her parents, Kevin and Camilla Rosario. Throughout the musical, Nina is seen in much nicer, more colorful clothes full of bright blues and pastels, while her parents wear clothes that blend in with the barrio. This contrast highlighted Nina’s hope to break away from Washington Heights by completing her degree at Stanford University, while her parents were content with remaining in the barrio. The choice also highlighted Kevin and Camilla Rosario’s desire for their daughter to have more than what they had, perhaps most exemplified by Kevin Rosario’s choice to sell his business to pay for Nina’s tuition.

Throughout the show, Nina often turned and stared at the audience, as if they would be able to help her. Address the audience like this highlighted the loneliness that Nina feels, despite being at home, and her desperation to be understood by everyone around her.

During the show, there was some minor sound feedback and microphones often dropped out, which distorted the audience’s ability to properly hear and understand the performers. Despite these interferences, the performers continued without issue, and the production did not experience any other technical problems.

The lighting effectively used spotlights during solo performances or emotional scenes to bring attention to a singular character, such as Abuela during her performance of “Paciencia Y Fe.” The song, which is a highly emotional number about Abuela’s journey from Cuba to America, was made even more emotional due to the use of red, blue, and white lighting during the climax of the song. The color of the lights reflected Abuela’s ambivalence regarding the country she considers home and the country where she lives. This lighting, coupled with actor Cameron Holder’s powerful execution of the song, provided a thought-provoking and memorable experience. Holder showed Abuela’s desperation and grief in a way that made it easy to feel connected to the character and fully impacted by her story. The performance forced viewers to wonder if home is where community is, where you are born, or, clichély, where the heart is.

With this musical, UNCP’s Theatre Program sought to tell a story that has not only become increasingly popular since the release of the film version, but also one that resonates with minority groups, with those who struggle financially, and, ultimately, with those who find family in community. It was evident that the actors understood the importance of family as they all worked in tandem to show that they were a family of artists. By often speaking directly to and making eye contact with the audience, we were drawn into this connection as well, effectively creative a sense of community among all those in the auditorium, even if it was only for a few hours. The lighting, costumes, set, and skills of those who portrayed each of the characters gave the audience the opportunity to experience a performance which was effective, satisfying, and, most importantly, enjoyable.