BWW Reviews: Strong Storytelling Makes IN THE HEIGHTS Engaging
Jubilantly celebrating love of community and strong family bonds, "In the Heights" should be warmly embraced by Hale Center Theater Orem patrons.
A mixed narrative involving characters in the multicultural Washington Heights, N.Y., neighborhood, the story of "In the Heights" is universal and easy to become engaged in. There's strong storytelling that will be savored by Hale Center's core audiences and Utah County theatergoers as the entertaining events quickly gel. Only the simple-minded novice, approving solely of fluffy revivals and Disney adaptations, would see it as a departure.
Nominated in 2008 for 13 Tony Awards, taking home four (Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestration), "In the Heights" involves three storefront mom-and-pops: a taxi dispatch, a bodega, and a hair salon.
All the characters are captivating, with abundant chance to flesh out under the brilliant direction of veteran Christopher Clark. Choreographer Jennifer Hill-Barlow shows genuine flair with the blending of salsa, meringue, and slight hip-hop dance moves. The music direction by Justin Bills is spirited.
The masterful Ben Wille and Rebecca Burroughs have much tangible chemistry playing the romantic leads, the mini-mart proprietor Usnavi de la Vega and Vanessa, his dream chica. Another talented performer is Xandra Wille as Nina Rosario, the first in the vecindad to go to college. They sing beautifully and effortlessly evoke the characters' speech patterns evolving from native Spanish to accented English.
There's minor casting of actors required to play against type. It is jarring to see the Irish-looking Keith Evans take on the Benny role, which significantly alters the authors' intent for the dynamic between his character and Nina. Jayne Luke misunderstands her Abuela Claudia character. She's too world-weary and more kvetches than vibrates warmth and a positive outlook.
Another misstep is the staging of the riot during an area blackout. The essential plotpoint generally closes Act 1, but here it largely happens during intermission, with ushers scattering debris on the stage and removing some of the tienda's wares.
"In the Heights" is a contemporary rendering that pulsates with vitality and good humor - and love of home. It's a joy to discover a show so uplifting, and you'll recognize why this vibrant musical is so award-laden and cheered by audiences.
Top: Rebecca Burroughs as Vanessa and Ben Wille as Usnavi de la Vega
Right: Xandra Wille as Nina Rosario
Credit: Pete Widtfeldt ©2013 CanIGetACopy.com