Characters / In the Heights

In the Heights

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Usnavi de la Vega
Role originated by Lin-Manuel Miranda
The owner of a bodega in Washington Heights. He was named after one of the first sights his parents saw when they arrived in America, a US Navy ship. He dreams of going to the Dominican Republic, his parents' homeland. Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood matriarch, practically raised him. He is in love with Vanessa.

  • Author Avatar: Lin-Manuel Miranda also wrote the lyrics and music.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: He absolutely cannot ask Vanessa out, he has no skill with romance and can barely admit his feelings even after they gon on a date.
  • Like Brother and Sister: With Nina.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Turns out his parents after the first thing they saw in America. As in, a ship with "U.S. Navy" on the side of it.
  • Motor Mouth: Quick-witted and can sometimes speak fast due to nerves. Especially when in the vicinity of Vanessa.
  • Raised by Grandparents: That would be raised by Abuela Claudia, she's not really his abuela, but he practically raised him, her corner was his escuela. But in all seriousness, Usnavi is one of the closest characters to Claudia, being one of the few characters to share the lotto with her and being the first to help her out in the blackout.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Usnavi has a noticeably greater vocabulary and can fire off complex metaphors off the top of his head, as seen when he tries to chat up a hot girl at the club.
  • Team Mom: Usnavi seems to take over the role after the finale, acting as the "street-light" for the community—providing illumination, learning and passing on their shared stories and heritages, and binding them together. And, of course, providing sweet, sweet coffee.
  • True Companions: Benny jokingly calls him a "streetlight" in the first eponymous song of the musical, and he laments this:
    "Yeah I'm a streetlight chokin' on the heat/the world spins around while I'm frozen to the street/the people that I know all keep on rolling down the street/but everyday is different so I'm switching up the beat."
    • But, when we get to the Finale when he finally realizes he's always been home, he changes his tune to:
    "Yeah, I'm a streetlight chillin' in the heat/I illuminate the stories of the people in the street/Some have happy endings, some are bitter sweet/But I love them all and that's what makes my life complete!"//
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: No one besides Usnavi himself points it out, but "Usnavi" is not a real name in the slightest. He makes not of it several times, noting that "you probably never heard my name" and that in regards to the name, "I worked with what [my parents] gave me."

Nina Rosario
Role originated by Mandy Gonzalez
The daughter of Kevin and Camila. She is the first to go to college (Stanford University), and everyone in the barrio admires her. However, she returns home from school for the summer with difficult news to tell her parents; she has lost her scholarship and had to take unadmirable jobs just to stay afloat.

  • Beta Couple: With Benny.
  • Daddy's Girl: Nina, even though she and Kevin begin arguing more and more during the show, loves her father deeply and in turn, he would sacrifice anything for Nina.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: "Breathe" describes Nina's anxiety over having struggled and spent so much to get to college without having any idea what to do with her life. The song doesn't resolve her conflict though, and she decides to avoid the issue until Benny accidentally guilts her about it in "When You're Home." At this point, Benny's kindness and acceptance help her to be happy in spite of her uncertainty. In "Everything I Know," reflecting on Abuela's death and how dearly she held everyone in the barrio gives Nina the resolve to go back to Stanford to honor Abuela.
  • Joins to Fit In:
    • "I feel like all my life I'm trying to find the answers/Working harder/Learning Spanish/Learning all I can/I thought I might find the answer out at Stanford/But I'd just stare out at the sea thinking/Where am I supposed to be?"
  • Like Brother and Sister: With Usnavi.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Double subverted with Nina. She dropped out of Stanford, but is going back in the fall.
  • Secret Relationship: Her father reacts badly to her and Benny.
  • Stepford Smiler
    • "Straighten the spine/Smile for the neighbours/Everything's fine, everything's cool/The standard reply "lots of tests, lots of papers"/Smile, wave goodbye and pray to the sky/Oh God!"

Abuela Claudia
Role originated by Olga Merediz
The elder and matriarch of the barrio who knows everybody and is like a grandmother to all (“abuela” means “grandmother” in Spanish). She is the one who looked after Usnavi when his parents died. Came to America with just her mother on a boat in the early December of 1943. Laments that she struggled to adjust, and got a job as a maid, feeling as she had "scrubbed the whole of the upper East side".
  • '80s Hair: You can tell which of her photographs were taken in the eighties just by the volume of her hair.
  • Catchphrase: She has two phrases she lives by and repeats at every opportunity: "Alabanza," meaning "bring praise to this," and "Paciente y Fe," meaning "Patience and Fate."
  • Parental Substitute: To Usnavi.
  • Team Mom: Abuela Claudia, who's not really anyone's abuela, but she practically raised them all, with her corner acting as a second home for the characters, which Nina in particular realizes in Act II.
    • Usnavi seems to take over the role after the finale, acting as the "street-light" for the community—providing illumination, learning and passing on their shared stories and heritages, and binding them together. And providing sweet, sweet coffee.

Role originated by Karen Olivo
Usnavi's love interest who works at Daniela's salon. She dreams of getting out of the barrio and getting an apartment downtown.

  • Cannot Spit It Out: She's just as in love with Usnavi as he is with her, but she never makes a move and only comes to admit her feelings when it seems too late.
    • Anyone looking for "artistic merit" to justify this awesome play to Broadway purists can point out that Champagne (both song and object) is a complex metaphor for Usnavi and Vanessa's unspoken feelings (and their inability to admit them).
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Vanessa is dismissive of the barrio and only dreams of leaving it behind along with all its inhabitants. By the end, she comes to value it and all the people that live in the Heights.
  • Hello, Nurse!: Vanessa is a tame version of this trope. Usnavi and most of the guys drool over her but no one actually gets ridiculous about it (as in it never gets to Informed Attractiveness levels). Vanessa herself doesn't think it's that big of a deal.
  • Oblivious to Love: Vanessa pretends that she doesn't know about Usnavi's feelings, and also pretends that she doesn't reciprocate them.
  • Operation: Jealousy: She's insulted when Usnavi seems indifferent to her in the bar, so she agrees to dance with some dude in order to make him jealous. In turn, Usnavi asks with a random girl to get back at her. Incidentally, that random girl was earlier used by Daniela to try and make Vanessa admit her feelings for Usnavi.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Vanessa refuses to dignify the catcalls of the boorish men from the Heights and only seems interested in Usnavi, one of the nicest people in the Barrio.
  • Spicy Latina

Role originated by Christopher Jackson
Works at Kevin's dispatch. The only non-Spanish-speaking member of the community, he falls in love with Nina. He dreams of opening his own business, "Benny's Car Service." Disliked by Nina's father for not being Latino, but is accepted by Nina's mother as an "honorary Latino."

  • Beta Couple: He and Nina make up one of these, in a much more straightforward and honest relationship than the one Vaness and Usnavi are in.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Daniella claims Benny has quite a big... taxi, and no one really denies her claim. In the original Broadway version, this gag fell under Black Is Bigger in Bed.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Benny is the only character with no knowledge of Spanish, despite his best efforts. He sprinkles his speech with what Spanish he does know, though it's not much more advanced than cognates like "Atencíon."
  • Love Hurts: Benny's relationship with Nina causes him quite a bit of heartache. Ultimately, they have to live knowing they may never see each other past when the sun goes down on Nina's last day back in the barrio.
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: As part of his job at the dispatch, Benny spends Act I in a suit and tie, even when spending his off-time with Nina and Usnavi.
  • Token Minority: Generally, Benny isn't played by a Latin actor, to reflect the character's role as an outsider to the rest of the barrio. He can really be any race besides Latino, so there's been plenty of Token White Bennys just as valid as the Token Black ones like the originator of the role, Chris Jackson.
  • "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Benny is desperately trying to earn the approval of Mister Rosario, and takes it deeply personally when he's fired by him. Not only is Mr. Rosario a father figure through Benny's relationship with Nina, but he's also been an authority figure for Benny since he was opening fire hydrants on the streets.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Benny and Usnavi share a rather self-depreciating relationship together. One of the first things Benny says to Usnavi in the play is that "he ain't got no skill" and then Usnavi spends "96,000" deconstructing Benny's lottery dreams.

Role originated by Robin de Jesus
Usnavi's sassy, lazy, yet ambitious younger cousin who works in the bodega.

  • Annoying Younger Sibling: Subverted in that Sonny is fairly intelligent with a comically strong vocabulary (he seems to take after Usnavi a bit) and interest in politics and social activism. He also has shades of being the Only Sane Man as his introspections on what Usnavi's departure and the closing of the surrounding shops means for the community causes him to despair when others are partying.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: Sonny's youthfulness and innocence tend to overshadow his rather in-depth political knowledge.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Sonny belongs in this role, with his youth often coming at the but of jokes, but it's also Played for Drama, because Sonny's ideas and beliefs are dismissed as "cute" because of his age even if they are well thought-out.
  • Soapbox Sadie: In some performances, Sonny will literally step up on a box before going into his political rant in "96,000." Notably, the narrative doesn't dismiss his opinions on the matter as frivolous, but the characters clearly do.

Role originated by Andrea Burns
Daniela is the outrageous owner of the salon where the neighborhood girls gossip. Best friend to Carla.

  • Catchphrase: She shares "No me diga" with Carla, which loosely translates to "You don't say," generally referring to their tendency to share sensationalist gossip with each other.
  • Gossipy Hens: Daniela is the queen of this, nothing happens that she doesn't hear about, even if it only happened that morning. Specifically, she finds out that Benny and Nina slept with each other the morning it happened even though they told no one, no one saw them together and she hadn't seen them since Nina caught a haircut from her yesterday.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Again, her and Carla.
  • Spicy Latina: Daniela has the most blatant accent of the original Broadway cast, and it reflects in her dramatic and loud personality.
  • Those Two Girls: With Carla.
  • When I Was Your Age: Daniela pulls this on the first-generation members of the barrio, admonishing them for complaining about heat and boredom when both were much worse when she was growing up in Puerto Rico.


Role originated by Janet Dacal
Carla works at Daniela's salon along with Vanessa.

  • The Ditz: Carla is frequently quite a few steps behind everyone else in a conversation, failing to understand Daneila's innuendo in "No Me Diga" and having trouble comprehending Daniela's idea for the carnaval in "Carnaval de Barrio."
  • Gossipy Hens: With Daniela.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Again, her and Daniela.
  • Mixed Ancestry: "My mom is Dominican-Cuban/My dad is from Chile and PR which means/I'm Chiledominicarican/But I always say I'm from Queens."
  • Those Two Girls: With Daniela.

Kevin Rosario

Camila Rosario

The Piragua Guy

Graffiti Pete