BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Storms into South High Magnet
Last night will be a night I won't soon forget. Not only did I get caught in a whopper of a Midwestern storm, I experienced a unique collaboration between students of Omaha's schools and SNAP! Productions performing Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS. South High Magnet School and SNAP! Productions blended youth and diversity with the right amount of seasoned actors in this 2009 "Pulitzer Prize for Drama" nominated work by the wildly popular creator of HAMILTON.
Produced by South's Rebecca Noble and directed by Michal Simpson, artistic director of SNAP!, with music direction by South's Choral Director Tyler Gruttemeyer, this rainbow cast of all ages and abilities filled the stage and told the story of Dominican Americans eeking out a living in the Washington Heights barrio of Manhattan to memorable rap music. You don't think you like rap? Lin-Manuel Miranda will change your mind.
Rapping is not a piece of cake. It requires sharp enunciation, impeccable timing, and a quick tongue. In the role of Usnavi (named by his parents for US Navy), UNL sophomore Japrice Green conquers the glib lyrics and easily dominates the stage with agile moves and affable personality.
Roni Shelley Perez is a natural choice for the role of Stanford dropout Nina Rosario. Not only is she ideal in terms of physical characteristics (she could easily replace the Nina I've seen on Broadway), she is one of the best female vocalists on Omaha stages and can act equally as well.
Benny (Marcel Daly), an employee of Rosario's Taxi and Limousine Service, is Nina's new love interest. His duets with Perez are ear candy. Some may remember Daly from the Rose Theatre production of THE LITTLE MERMAID where he played Prince Eric. If he was a prince at the Rose, he is a king at South. Daly's voice is so smooth and delicious, you want to bottle it and take it home.
Another new delight is Kate Madsen as Vanessa. Madsen's vocals are powerful and gripping. No sleeping through her songs! She is comfortable in her role and you forget that she is acting.
Ryan Savage's brilliant smile and great vocals are only two reasons why Sonny is such a likeable character. His sense of humor is ingratiating.
One of the most touching moments in the show was Cory Sanchez as Kevin, Nina's father, as he sings of the legacy of uselessness he feels he has inherited. He is heartbreaking, yet his esposa, Camila (Veronica Goff) won't let him wallow. Abel Claudia (Kathy Huerta-Simpson) is the grandmother we all want in our corner of the world.
My favorite fun number is the ladies of the hair salon singing "No Me Diga," promising that they can't repeat the delicious gossip they have heard, but promptly forgetting that promise with the next breath. Jamie Linh Tran as calculating Daniela and Serena Johnson as the innocent Carla are both charming polar opposites.
While hesitant to point out any negatives in this wonderful production, I must say that I was disappointed that the ensemble drowned out Perez in the most beautiful number of the show, "Breathe." I already had tears leaking out of my eyes when I stopped short and wondered, "Where is she? All I can hear are the background vocals." There were one or two other times when the orchestra overpowered the singers, or mics were uneven or squawking. Because the music and lyrics are so wonderful, I wanted to hear every note. Every word. The actors had the voices. I wanted to hear them.
Courtney Stein's choreography was entertaining and fun, and a great way to involve the entire ensemble of high schoolers.
There are hundreds of stories in Manhattan. IN THE HEIGHTS is a poignant look at the lives of just some of the people who could live there. There is friendship. Loyalty. Jealousy. Behind the blackouts are the sunrises. Behind the loss is the champagne. Behind the failure is another chance.
South High Magnet and SNAP! did a superb job of replicating people of the barrio. I didn't feel like I was sitting in a theater watching a musical. I felt like I was evesdropping on life in another culture. And I loved it.
The Midwest storm hit precisely as the curtain calls were made. It was black out: little to no visibility. I was powerless: There was nothing I could do but drive on through the storm. There was the constant fireworks of lightning with pounding hail the size of golf balls. I'd say that was a fitting ending to an exciting evening.