Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Wheelock Family Theatre Soars To New Heights - "In The Heights" by Lin-Manuel Miranda

I was so inspired by the Opening Night performance of Wheelock Family Theatre's "In The Heights" that I decided to make a pilgrimage to Uznavi's neighborhood. I am writing this review sitting next door to a bodega very much like the one at the center of the action of the musical. I am at the intersection of 181st and Broadway in Washington Heights - in the shadow of the GW Bridge. Lin-Manuel Miranda captured the ethos of this neighborhood in the show that won the Tony for Best Musical - several years before he immortalized the life of Alexander Hamilton.

Director/Choreographer Rachel Bertone has assembled a diverse cast and creative crew to bring the Heights to Boston's Fenway neighborhood. Dan Rodriguez leads a wonderful 9 piece orchestra.  Jenna McFarland Lord's set is a perfect evocation of this block of Washington Heights in the height and the heat of the NYC summer and of 4th of July. Lighting is by Franklin Meissner, Costumes by Marian Bertone, Sound by Andrew Duncan Will.

In contradistinction to a recent controversial production north of Boston, Wheelock has been faithful to the roots of this show and its conception by casting a multitude of ethnicities, as well as first generation college students and recent grads - mirroring the neighborhood that sits high above the banks of the Hudson River. The result is a rich tapestry of voices and accents and dancing styles - all pulled together with zest by Ms. Bertone.
  • Diego Klock-Perez is terrific as Usnavi, struggling bodega owner who longs to return to his roots in Cuba. He shines in the opening production number as well as in "Alabanza."
  • Laura Lebron Rojas is radiant as Nina, the great hope of the neighborhood. She has returned in disgrace after losing her scholarship to Stanford. Her rendition of ""Everything I Know" is a highlight.
  • Nina is in love with her father's young assistant, Benny, played to perfection by Darren Bunch. He and Ms. Rojas pair together for two memorable duets, "Sunrise," and "When The Sun Goes Down."
  • The emotional heart of the neighborhood is Abuela Claudia. She provides many forms of support to Nina, Uznavi and others. She has a large heart that is wearing out. Johanna Carlisle Zepeda brings Abuela to life in "Paciencia Y Fe."
  • Luis Negron is Kevin Rosario, who is willing to do anything for his daughter, Nina. Life is not easy for him, having come to the U.S. to flee an abusinve father. His rendition of "Inutil (Useless)" is heart rending.
  • Rosi Amador is strong as Nina's mother, Camila Rosario. "Siempre (Always)" is her moment to shine.
  • As Sonny, Uznavi's cousin and put-upon assistant, Diego Guevara almost steals the show. He provides much needed comic relief, as well as making sure that Uznavi and Vanessa meet over more than morning coffee.
  • Iliana Garcia is sultry as Vanessa, intent of getting out of the Heights to move downtown to the West Village. She combines with her beauty parlor sisters and Nina for a rousing "No Me Diga." They are Yewande O. Odetoyinbo as Daniela, the shop owner, and Kira Troilo as Carla, the Bible spouting assistant.
  • Tony Castellanos is a strong presence as the ubiquitous Piragua Guy, hawking his refreshing shaved ice treats.
  • David Alea is Graffiti Pete, who ends up crafting a fitting tribute to Abuela Claudia.
  • The strong ensemble consists of Ceci Cipullo, Marshall Joun, AJ Manuel Lucero, Zachary D. McConnell, Selena Mercado, Malik Mitchell, Katrina Z. Pavao, Ryoko Seta, Lance-Patrick Strickland, Alexa Wang, Kelton Washington, Caroline Workman.
Diego Klock-Perez as Uznavi
"In The Heights"
Wheelock Family Theatre
Through November 19th

"In The Heights" will run through November 19th at Wheelock Family Theatre.



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