There’s a high energy, dancing, hip-hopping, laughing, crying, cheering, whooping production of “In The Heights” that opened last night at the Croswell Opera House and it is terrific.
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-award-winning musical (perhaps you’ve heard of his second: “Hamilton”) centers on family and home and finding your place in a world that is always familiar and always changing. Set in Washington Heights in NYC (its north of the George Washington Bridge for you non-New Yorkers) in the late 2000’s it foreshadows the gentrification that occurred in that area, forcing out its many hispanic and latino immigrants and businesses over the past decade on its way to becoming Manhattan’s hipster-haven.
Debra Ross Calabrese has done a great job of directing this (much larger than it looks) production, and every move and step has a meaning and a purpose. Scenes flow seamlessly from one to the other thanks to Stephanie Busing’s solid set and projection design. Libby Garno’s dance steps are fun and dynamic. Dave Rains does a great job musical directing this cast and leading a fantastic pit orchestra. Costume designer Natalie Kissinger makes everybody look terrific on stage and captures the eclectic look of urban New York City, and Tiff Crutchfield’s lighting design looks beautiful, Chris Goosman’s sound design is very good.
The cast is led by terrific Jonathan Tobar as Usnavi in a Lin-Manuel-like performance that is eery in its similarities and his high energy, and the superb Alaina Kerr as Nina. Benny is played by the always excellent Derrick Jordan, and Usnavi’s love-interest by the wonderful Katelyn Lesle. John Bacarella and Lydia DiDo Schafer are great as Nina’s parents, Anthony Contreras is a fun and energetic Sonny, and Melissa Paschall plays a warm and lovely Abuela. Carissa Villanueva and Libby Garno (who also did the fantastic choreography) are a hoot as salon owner and employee Daniela and Carla. In other roles, CJ Mathis, Rudy Gonzalez and Zachary Flack are all spot-on.
The entire ensemble lifts the energy throughout with a near-constantly choreographed evening. The Dance Ensemble consists of Breah Duschl, Morgan McConnell, Nik Owen, Emily Kapnick, Michael Rywalski, and Xavier Sarabia. Pick one of them and follow their course over the production and you’ll see just how much dancing there is in this show. The rest of the ensemble is also great: Tyaira Smith Adamson, Brok Boze, Leigh Christopher, Lauren DePorre, Emily Ialacci, Merceds Polley, Payton Perry-Radcliffe, Hannah Rowe, and Gabriella Terrones.
Particularly impressive is the work that has gone into diction in this production – great job cast and Dave Rains. In a show that “talks” nearly non-stop in its hip-hop lyrics (“rap” for those of us listening to music long before most of this cast was born) its essential the audience can hear the words, and the work here is very well done.
Also impressive is the massive scale of this show — Debra has filled her stage with so many things going on throughout the stage – near the audience and afar, on stoops, on tenement balconies, in windows. It has a great “New York” feel to it. Good work.
And then there is the Lin-Manuel Miranda score. You can hear the melodies of Hamilton forming here already – when the cast sings about being “powerless” you can already recognize the chord structures and hip-hop rhythms that he brings to full force in his latter piece. Here, its beautifully integrated with salsa and a tuneful beat-filled score. If you aren’t a huge Hamilton fan, rest assured, the majority of this score is still standard broadway show tunes, albeit set to a more urban beat.
“In the Heights” places its emphasis and heart squarely in the realm of “what is home” and “where do you go to find home” and finding that “home is people not a place”…but what a great place Croswell has created here.
Very Highest Recommendation.
A few tickets remain for the rest of the run at Croswell.org. In the Heights runs through July 23rd. I’d suggest you get your tickets immediately.
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