I had a few reservations about the first Japanese production of "In the Heights," the Broadway sensation nominated for 13 Tony awards in 2008.

For one, neither of the female leads playing Nina and Vanessa seemed to have much musical-theater experience. I also wondered whether the show's very specific sense of place and culture — the predominantly Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City — could be conveyed by an all-Japanese cast singing in Japanese what was originally an English score melded with lots of Spanish.

Musicals can, of course, be successfully performed by anyone in any language. But when so much of the soul of a show involves a language and a culture utterly removed from the cast's experience, can it still work?