BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Downtown Cabaret Theatre
On Cinco de Mayo, I had the pleasure of seeing an excellent performance of IN THE HEIGHTS at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre in Bridgeport, CT. Set in Washington Heights in New York City, in a predominantly Latino community, this show delivers the right blend of drama, action, and comedy, enhanced by high quality dancing, singing, and acting, with music and dialogue delivered with the ideal combination of Spanish to create believability, and English so audience members who only speak English can clearly follow the story, while remaining intrigued and entertained.
The music, written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, includes moving slow ballads, intense rap and hip-hop, Merengue, Salsa, and other mostly Latin influences. The most captivating song is a full ensemble number called, "Blackout," that combines musical genres, has multiple soloists, conveys a mood that fits brilliantly with the storyline of the moment, and is enhanced by the projection of fireworks on the back of the stage.
The detailed choreography is a strong driving force behind the excitement of the production, particularly on the musical number "Carnaval Del Barrio" a song with full ensemble dancing that ends with so many rapid spins accompanied by side motions and linked arms, that it becomes a fun game for the audience to try to track where the highly talented cast members are going to end up after their next spin.
The entire cast was clearly having fun on stage, as the actors and actresses all became their characters, and remained in character at all times, whether they were the central focus of any given moment, or even when merely appearing in the background. Their stage business always showed meaning and believability.
The story provides a realistic depiction of the financial struggles that highly likeable and hard-working decent people still can experience, and the importance of strong family and community unity in helping each other out. The story extols honest and respectful open communication within and across generations, combined with love, kindness, generosity, hard work, and self-sacrifice.
The main male protagonist is Usnavi, a hard-working owner of a small Deli & Grocery Store. Marcelo Calderon portrays this highly likeable character so well that the audience feels Usnavi's emotions. Usnavi's love interest is Vanessa, portrayed by Olivia Grace Rivera, whose excellent singing brought sincerity and feeling to the character. The realistic struggles faced by Usnavi and Vanessa combined with their decency of character makes the audience hope to see them end up together.
The central female protagonist is Nina Rosario who actress Jessica Paige Braun brings to life. Nina makes some choices that her parents disagree with, but the tone of the show is one of sympathy for Nina, her parents, and for her love interest Benny, portrayed by the very talented actor, Everton Ricketts. The love story between Nina and Benny is a central plotline, with the audience pulling for their relationship.
Nina's parents Kevin and Camila Rosario are brilliantly portrayed by Perry Liu and Julie Bell Petrak, respectively, both who sing and act with such a strong level of believability that, combined with Nina, the audience temporarily forgets that this is a fictional family. Faced with some difficult life decisions, regardless of what choice one may feel this family should make, all can agree that the decision should be made together as a family.
Actress Celia Ortiz magnificently portrays Abuela Claudia, a character who is highly respected by the entire community as a central voice of reason and positive role model for the following two generations.
The comedic side of the story is highlighted by actors Joe Cardozo and Joshua Cardozo who portray Sonny and Graffiti Pete, respectively. Sonny is Usnavi's younger cousin who helps him out at the Deli & Grocery Store, and in life. Sonny establishes himself early in the story as the character whose personality keeps the audience actively anticipating his next line and interaction. Graffiti Pete is Sonny's friend who provides amusing one-liners. The dynamics between the Cardozo actors elevate both characters' interactions with each other to the maximum level possible.
While the story primarily revolves around a Latino community, the high quality acting, singing, and dancing combine with the show's strong message to create a universal appeal that transcends cultures, ethnicities, languages, and adult generations. I highly recommend IN THE HEIGHTS which will continue to run at the Downtown Cabaret Theatre, in Bridgeport, CT, until May 21, every Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at both 5:00 and 8:15 PM, and Sunday at 5:00 PM, with a new show added on Thursday, May 18 at 7:30 P.M. The show provides drama, action, comedy, and a desire to try the Puerto Rican ice dessert called "Piragua," if you ever get the chance.