"In The Heights" is set in present day New York City - and the first thing you see in the show is a graffiti artist, who strides onto the dimly lit stage carrying a boom box and two cans of spray paint, which he uses to tag a storefront.
But despite the nod to contemporary life, "In The Heights" is actually a rather old-fashioned show, with a traditional "boy gets girl" plotline, and a melodramatic scene involving a city-wide power failure that conveniently occurs just before intermission. The large cast of likeable, colorful neighborhood characters includes a much-loved Cuban abuela (that's Grandma in Spanish), and a Puerto Rican immigrant who's worked hard to build up a small business. The young woman at the heart of the story the first member of her family to attend college - she falls for a working class guy who unfortunately doesn't speak Spanish, and has had a somewhat troubled past, but possesses a heart of gold.
If this sounds like a rose-tinted, slightly schmaltzy version of life in the barrio - well, that's exactly what it is. These ethnic characters and their episodic stories reminded me of the good-hearted denizens of John Steinbeck's "Cannery Row." The significant difference is that "In The Heights" is very much a New York story. And this being a musical, romance figures prominently in the plot.
The score draws on Latin percussion and flashy brass. I wouldn't say any of the songs are memorable, but they get the job done. And there's some spiffy dancing in the nightclub scene. All in all, it's an enjoyable and by and large traditional show - providing you aren't totally allergic to the hip hop element.