BWW Reviews: Walnut Street Theatre Captivates Audiences with IN THE HEIGHTS
The Walnut Street Theatre opened their 2013-2014 season with the energetic IN THE HEIGHTS. This show takes place in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, and tells the story of a "day" in the lives of those who live in this neighborhood. What is unique about this show is that each person not only has their own individual story, but when they sing throughout the show, they have their own style of music. For example, the character of Usnavi's songs are all rap where Nina's songs are all ballads. This show is full of energy and passion, and the Walnut Street Theatre's production of IN THE HEIGHTS is remarkable.
The story of IN THE HEIGHTS takes place over the course of three day, July 3rd through 5th. The show not only depicts the stories of the people living in this multicultural neighborhood of Washington Heights, but also the generation differences. IN THE HEIGHTS opened on Broadway in March 2008 and was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards. The show won four Tonys: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote music and lyrics for the show, and the book is by Quiara Alegría Hudes.
The Walnut Street Theatre's production of IN THE HEIGHTS has solid vocals, energetic choreography, and is full of zeal. Each performer in the show is strong and the entire cast is outstanding. Perry Young plays Usnavi, the owner of a bodega in the neighborhood. Young opens the show with marvelous poetic rap, which then builds into a large production number. The character of Usnavi serves as the audience's guide throughout the show, and he does this with enthusiasm and determination. Young's performance is one of the strongest in this production. Julia Hunter portrays Nina who was the first in her family to go to college. Hunter's ballad "Breathe" is strong, and she exceptionally shows the kindheartedness of her character. In addition, Hunter's duet with Rhett George who plays Benny, "When the Sun Goes Down," is moving and the best duet in the production. Danny Bolero and Kimberly S. Fairbanks play Nina's parents. These two fine actors show how parents are protective, but always have the best interest of their child in mind. Bolero and Fairbanks are solid in their performances, and their solos, "Inútil" and "Enough" are astounding. Vanessa, who works in the hair salon and is the love interest of Usnavi is played by Gizel Jimenez. Jimenez shows the complexity of this character throughout the show with finesse, she expresses the heartbreaking story as well as the passion of this character. Rayanne Gonzales portrays Abuela Claudia, who is the loving grandmother figure of the neighborhood. Gonzales shows the warmth and love this character brings to the neighborhood, and her song "Paciencia y Fe" is brilliant. Rounding out this phenomenal cast is Matthew J. Harris who plays Sonny, the cousin of Usnavi. Sonny adds humor to the show, and with Harris's skill you can see that underneath the humor lies a very thoughtful person. The cast of IN THE HEIGHTS is full of energy and that is apparent in the song that was the highlight of the show: "96,000."
In addition to this superb cast, the artistic team also needs mentioning. Bruce Lumpkin is the director of IN THE HEIGHTS. Anna Louizos serves as the scenic designer and she needs recognized for the exceptional set. The costumes for the show were amazing, and Colleen Grady is the costume designer. Michelle Gaudette is responsible for the stellar choreography. In addition, Douglass G. Lutz serves as the musical and vocal director.
IN THE HEIGHTS runs at the Walnut Street Theatre through October 20, 2013. For more information and tickets visit their website at www.walnutstreettheatre.org or call their box office at 215-574-3550.
Photo Credit: Mark Garvin