How In the Heights Tackles Current Issues

How In the Heights Tackles Current Issues

by Patrick Fretwell

Some will rejoice. Some will be shocked.

But anyone who sees Glow Lyric Theatre’s In the Heights will learn.

Glow Lyric Theatre’s production of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Tony award-winning musical recognizes not only the cultural significance of a specific New York City neighborhood, but also displays that the American dream comes in all shapes, sizes, and colors in communities all across the country.

In the Heights is a show about Washington Heights, a predominantly Latino New York City community. The show’s musical numbers display the energetic and fast-paced community’s drive to live fulfilling lives. But when it comes to a core set of beliefs, the people living there aren’t too different than someone in Brooklyn or Manhattan, or even Greenville.

“The Latino community is just as diverse as our Black and White communities,” Jessica Eckenrod, a member of the In the Heights cast, said. “People of all looks, dialects, and personalities. I thoroughly enjoy the ITH cast, because it’s a true depiction of a melting pot of people with a tie back to Latin America – whether it’s a direct relation or 6 cousins away.”

The musical sheds light on the fact that there are distinct differences in communities across the country, highlighting everything in Latin American culture from a snow cone called piragua and salsa dancing, to the story of immigration and heritage. 

In the Heights also portrays some of the struggles characters endure deal with themes like the problems with gentrification, the importance of family, and love. And even though New York City’s Washington Heights is over 700 miles away, Greenville, South Carolina’s people and the problems they face are not so different.

According to population estimates by the U.S. Census in July 2017, more than 45,000 people that live in Greenville County are Hispanic or Latino. Over 90,000 are Black or African American alone. Diversity is evident all across the Upstate and some of the struggles people face are similar to that of Washington Heights.

Housing in Greenville is skyrocketing as more businesses and apartments begin to move into downtown. According to the Real Data Apartment Index, in 2016 average monthly rents in Greenville were $971 but average downtown monthly rents were $1476.

And as Greenville continues to grow, it is worrisome that some communities will continue to fight gentrification. However, awareness to this idea can help people in Greenville understand the importance of maintaining cultural diversity.

This is where the magic of theatre comes in.

In the Heights tackles this theme not with a specific solution, but instead with an emphasis on the Americans who face it today, utilizing empathy to push for the need itself to find an answer to gentrification. The show implores audiences to value the importance of all cultural pockets of our society and the positive impact they’ve had on the American experience.

“It (In the Heights) just gives actors and audience members alike to see that we have very few differences from our brothers and sisters from different backgrounds and cultures,” Eckenrod said. “We as a society face the same issues and daily problems, but they are just viewed from a different angle!”