Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at City Springs Theatre

On stage at the Byers Theatre in Sandy Springs!

By: Oct. 26, 2022
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at City Springs Theatre

Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at City Springs Theatre City Springs Theatre Company has returned to the stage with IN THE HEIGHTS, Lin-Manuel Miranda's first Broadway musical. Led by director Natalie Caruncho, CSTC's fifth season continues to wow audiences.

With conception and music by Tony®, Pulitzer® and Grammy® award-winner Lin-Manuel Miranda, and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, IN THE HEIGHTS celebrates the New York neighborhood of Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican American community. It tells the story of Usnavi de la Vega (a bodega owner hopelessly in love with Vanessa), Vanessa Morales (a local hairdresser looking to get out of Washington Heights and start her fashion career), Nina Rosario (the smart girl one who "made it out"), and Benny (the non-Dominican who falls for Nina). Amongst other characters, we also have Abuela who has affectionately adopted the barrio and took in Usnavi after the death of his parents.

From the moment I walked into the theatre, I was immediately transported to "the barrio" (neighborhood). The detailed and dynamic full set (created by Anna Louizos) was on stage with no curtain, and you had the ambient background noise of New York: car traffic, honking horns, and pedestrian chatter. Pardon the pun, but it set the stage for how intentional this production of IN THE HEIGHTS would prove to be.

This production's Nina (Amanda Lopez) and Benny (Kyle Robert Carter) steal the show. Their chemistry is undeniable, and I found myself smiling whenever they had the opportunity to sing together. Beyond their duets, Lopez is the clear standout. She was made for the role of Nina. I'm not often brought to tears by musicals, but her rendition of "Everything I Know" managed to move the entire theatre.

Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at City Springs Theatre Marcello Audino was immediately lovable as Usnavi. The title song introduces you to both the characters as well as the barrio, and Audino is holding your hand (and making you laugh) along the way. He plays the role with the perfect mix of goof and heart, which is exactly what made him so lovable. Though Usnavi is more often heard rapping or generally speaking quickly through his numbers, Audino really shines when he gets to sing.

This cast was pure perfection. Erika Zade's vocal talent really elevated the show, and you could pick her voice out from the full cast numbers. Nicole Paloma Sarro adopts everyone in the audience with the depth of her love as Abuela. Emmanuel Cologne as Sonny is a fun bridge between youth and the responsibility of growing up.

I was especially impressed by some of the staging decisions that were made. Directors often make the decision to pull main characters from the stage if they aren't necessary to the scene. Caruncho goes in the opposite direction. To keep the stage (and the set) alive, Usnavi, the salon girls, and even Rosario's service stays manned the majority of the time. It was the kind of naturalistic decision that took this production to the next level.

Additionally, Mike Wood deserves praise for the lighting design, especially the fireworks. Act I ends with "Blackout" when the heat has pushed New York City into a blackout. In an attempt to ward off potential robbers from Usnavi's bodega, Sonny and Graffiti Pete set off fireworks. The lighting decision was made to "pop" these fireworks behind the heads of the audience, truly making you feel like you were experiencing them too. Another subtle decision that took the production to another level.

Now, I've always said that I'm unsure of the time period IN THE HEIGHTS takes place in (beyond sometime in the 2000s). There isn't a mention of a date as far as the year goes. This creative team takes it a little bit more modern, using smartphone lights to light the stage in the blackout. At one point, Usnavi brings the Rosarios a bottle of wine, saying it's a "fine 2019 vintage." Thus, they've brought the show to be slightly more contemporary.

Honestly, I don't have anything negative to say about City Springs Theatre's production of IN THE HEIGHTS. It was fun, inspirational, and one of CSTC's best productions to date.

IN THE HEIGHTS is at The Byers Theatre through November 6. For more information and to get tickets, head to www.CitySpringsTheatre.com.



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