Review Roundup: The Critics Weigh In On IN THE HEIGHTS at the Kennedy Center
The Kennedy Center's production of IN THE HEIGHTS concluded its run yesterday. Anthony Ramos, who originated the roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in the Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton, starred as Usnavi in the Broadway Center Stage production of In the Heights at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. Presented as a part of the inaugural season of Broadway Center Stage, a Kennedy Center-produced series of musicals in semi-staged concerts, In the Heights ran March 21-25, 2018 in the Eisenhower Theater.
Winner of four 2008 Tony Awards® including Best Musical and Best Score, In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's debut Broadway musical with a book by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegria Hudes, tells the universal story of a vibrant community in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood-a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It's a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams, and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you and which ones you leave behind.
Vanessa Hudgens (Gigi at the Kennedy Center), took on the role of Vanessa, with Ana Villafañe (On Your Feet!) as Nina, local D.C. actor Mateo Ferro as Sonny, Eden Espinosa (Wicked) as Daniela, J. Quinton Johnson (Hamilton) as Benny, original Broadway cast member Blanca Camacho as Camila, Saundra Santiago (Nine) as Abuela Claudia, Broadway cast member Rick Negron returning to the role of Kevin, Virgil Gadson (After Midnight) as Graffiti Pete, Arianna Rosario (On Your Feet!) as Carla, and original Broadway cast member Eliseo Roman reprising the role of Piragua Guy.
The production was directed and choreographed by Stephanie Klemons, who recently choreographed the NFL Super Bowl ad featuring Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. An In the Heights original Broadway cast member and Assistant Dance Captain, Klemons has a long history with Miranda's work, having gone on to serve as Associate Choreographer for both Hamilton and Bring it On.
The In the Heights ensemble included David Baida, Nico DeJesus, John Edwards, Hope Easterbrook, Rosie Fiedelman, Henry Gainza, Carlos Gonzalez, Morgan Marcell, April Ortiz, Khori Petinaud, and Voltaire Wade-Greene.
The production featured scenic design by Tony®-nominee Anna Louizos (In the Heights), costume design by Andrea Lauer (Bring It On: The Musical), lighting design by Helen Hayes Award-nominee Cory Pattak, sound design by Andrew Keister (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), projections by Zachary Borovay (Rock of Ages), and Zachary Dietz (In The Heights) as Music Director.
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Nelson Pressley, The Washington Post: That's not to say this "Heights" isn't entertaining. Miranda's unabashedly sentimental smooch to his roots is packed with entirely likable characters, and it's good to be reminded of his ability to generate storytelling suspense in expansive musical numbers like "The Club" and "Carnaval del Barrio." Klemons stages it full out, with the big cast filling two levels (there are scaffold-like platforms left and right) and moving with zest.
Jennifer Perry, BroadwayWorld: It was Eden Espinosa (Daniela), Vanessa Hudgens (Vanessa), and Ana Villafañe (Nina), however, who brought the house down. I've had the pleasure of seeing all three ladies in a leading musical role previously so this came as no surprise, but the polished performances they gave far exceeded what one might typically expect from a semi-staged production with a short rehearsal time. "Carnaval del Barrio" is a highlight is nearly every production, but Ms. Espinosa - who also proved to be quite adept at comedy - took it to another level. Hudgens started strong with a sweet rendition of "It Won't Be Long Now" and maintained the same vocal quality throughout. Villafañe achieved the perfect mix of emotional connection and technical skill on every number, but it was her performance of "Everything I Know" that really stood with me. Her natural chemistry with a charming J. Quinton Johnson as Benny also made the act two opener, "Sunrise," one of the most memorable moments.
Em Skow, DC Metro Arts: Taking on the considerable challenge of bringing a show such as In the Heights to life were Director/Choreographer Stephanie Klemons and Associate Director/Choreographer Alison Solomon. Their sense of flow and understanding of dramatic timing underscored the community, challenges, and choices at the heart of In the Heights. Subtle pop culture references were added (Wakanda forever) to create new moments for this 2018 audience to embrace.