BWW Reviews: IN THE HEIGHTS in Bridgeport
It's the Fourth of July weekend, and it's unbearably hot in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan. First and second generation Americans are trying to make their dreams come true and hold onto what they have already achieved. Add a couple of love stories. That is the précis of the multiple Tony award winning musical, In The Heights, with zesty salsa and Latin pop music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a rather thin book by Quiara Alegría Hudes.
But Christy McIntosh-Newsom's direction, Eli Newsom's music direction and a terrific cast more than make up for what the book fails to deliver. This production of The Bijou Theatre's Summer Stock program is a highlight in summer theatre season.
The show, a perfect fit for both Bridgeport's theatre loving and ethnically diversified communities, opens as Usnavi De La Vega (Marcello Calderon) paints a musical mural of the barrio. The close Dominican-American community is being threatened by the escalating cost of living in the 'hood. Even the Piragua Guy (Tony Meath), is having a hard time making a living by selling shaved ice in the hot summer. Daniela (Juliana Rivera) is being forced to move her salon to The Bronx. Her ambitious employee, Vanessa (Minuette Griffin) wants to move out of the barrio, but her mother has been draining her income, and she has a credit problem to boot. Daniela's other employee, Carla (Olivia Rivera), is just trying to hang on. Nina Rosario (Jessica Paige) cannot afford to stay at Stanford University, even with the scholarship she received and the financial help of her parents, Kevin (Paul Goodman) and Camila (Rebecca Cardozo), who own a car and limousine service. Nina's father's employee, Benny (Marques Christopher) secretly loves Nina, but knows her parents don't think he is good enough for them. Usnavi's nephew, Sonny (Joe Cardozo), gives him tips on how to woo Vanessa. Graffiti Pete (Chucky Peck) just needs money for spray paint. And the elderly Abuela Claudia (Cynthia Rivera) just lives off the dreams of winning a lottery. Supplementing the cast are Sejal Atluru, Isabella Barney, Josh Cardozo, Vivian Cruz-Rivera, Eliza Elliot, Ana Feliciano, Greg Gardner, Lily Probert, Everton Rickert, Catherine Ruiz, Ryan Shea, Maiya Urquhart and Garth West.
The cast is nearly flawless, but this critic would have loved to see more of a comfortable, long-fermented chemistry between the actors who played Nina's parents and more sparks between Benny and Nina. That said, both Goodman and Rebecca Cardozo are strong singers, and were convincing in their songs, "Inútil (Useless)" about his hardscrabble upbringing and "Enough" about her attempt to end the family fight about Benny's non-Latino background, and Paige and Christopher were likeable and plausible as a couple.
Complementing the Latino songs was the fantastic choreography by Emily Fragipane, Josh Cardozo and Gregory Gardner. It wasn't just entertaining, but drew the audience members in and made them feel like neighbors in the barrio. Evereton Ricketts' costumes and Josh Kvasnik's lighting design were just right for the show. Eli Newsom's musical direction was flawless. The sound, though, could have been a bit softer in order to allow the performers better projection. (That, unfortunately, is a problem in many theatres. Sound design should be more of a collaborative effort that starts in the construction of the space.)
In The Heights runs two hours and 20 minutes, but it doesn't feel that long. The show runs through Saturday, July 19. Don't miss it. Get there early for an easier time finding parking. The Bijou Theatre is located at 275 Fairfield Avenue in Bridgeport. 203-322-3228. www.thebijoutheatre.com