Published on December 6th, 2013 | by Zamná Ávila
In the Heights
By John Farrell, Curtain Call Writer
In the Heights, the Tony-winning musical about a mostly-Dominican neighborhood in New York’s Washington Heights, fits physically almost exactly into the Boyle Height’s neighborhood where it is running at Casa 0101 Theatre.
In the Heights is running as a joint production of Casa 0101 and Teatro Nuevos Horizontes.
Just down the street is the marketcita and beauty parlor that looks much like those featured on stage. Yet, the Spanish of the immigrants is different only in pronunciation from the mostly-Mexican immigrants in BoyleHeights.
The neighborhood is a lot quieter, though. No one breaks into song and dances with abandon on First Street — at least not as often.
Inside the Casa 0101 Theatre, In the Heights almost overpowers the theater space: the musical is large and powerful, filled with salsa rhythms provided by a four-piece ensemble led by Peter Kirkpatrick. The band is hidden behind the scenery and is, frankly, a little too loud, sometimes drowning out the singers so you can’t always figure out just what is happening in the story. But when the cast breaks into dance, you don’t care. Then the music fits the cast’s extraordinary exuberance. The production almost explodes from its small confines and you want to dance along. (Only foot tapping allowed.)
In the Heights, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Alegria Hudes, is directed effectively by Rigo Tejeda in the small Casa 0101 space. The production has minimal sets set back so there is plenty of room for the dancing. Music direction is by Andrew Orbison, with the very entertaining and athletic choreography by Daniel Lazareno De Dios and Tanya Possick.
The story is introduced by Usnavi DeLaVega (Michael Torrenueva) who raps the story of the neighborhood, from the car service across the street to the beauty parlor next to his own bodega. The neighborhood is made up of mostly immigrants from the Dominican Republic (Usnavi got his first name when his parents, on board ship, saw a U.S. Navy vessel as the first thing in the harbor.)
Daniella, the strikingly beautiful Vivian Lamolli, is his love interest and works at the beauty parlor next door, run by Vanessa, the curvaceous Valeria Maldanado. Across the stage (and street) is where Kevin Rosario works, managing a limousine service and making money for his daughter, Nina (Veronica Rosa), who is away across the country studying at Stanford. Abuela Claudia (Anastasia Silva) lives nearby and Benny (James Oronoz) the young black man who works with Kevin.
When Nina arrives back home, having dropped out of school, the whole neighborhood is shocked. She was the success story for everyone and is no longer. When she hooks up with Benny her father is furious. And, when the neighborhood is rocked by a power outage and a riot, things begin to change, not all for the better.
There is an up-beat ending, provided by a winning lottery ticket, but you can ignore that if you want to. What matters is the singing and dancing, and Tejeda has an electric cast, powerful singers for the most part (with body mikes) and all talented young dancers. The best moments are when the whole cast (there are 22 in all) dance, some in the body-challenging break-dance style, all of them in dynamic and thrilling salsa numbers, which are less than 20 feet from the small theater’s back rows.
You’ll want to dance along, but stay in your seat.
Tickets are $29, $25 for students, $19 for BoyleHeights residents with identification. Performances are Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 5 p.m. through December 22.