Review Roundup: IN THE HEIGHTS at Playhouse on Park

Review Roundup: IN THE HEIGHTS at Playhouse on ParkThings are heating up in WeHa with the arrival of the amazing In The Heights cast, set to open at Playhouse on Park on June 15!

With music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, In The Heights 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. In The Heights is the winner of the 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.

Starring in this production are: Niko Touros (NYC: URINETOWN; Regional: MAMMA MIA!, HAIR, SISTER ACT) as Usnavi, Amy Jo Phillips (Broadway: Queenie SHOWBOAT, Tom Sawyer. National Tours: Bloody Mary SOUTH PACIFIC, Emma TAP DANCE KID, THE ME NOBODY KNOWS and PORGY & BESS. TV: THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT) as Abuela Caudia, Stephanie Pope (Broadway/Off Broadway: JERICHO, PIPPIN (Astaire Award nom., ACCA Award), Velma Kelly CHICAGO, Muzzy Van Hossmere THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE, Leading Player FOSSE, Gymnasia A FUNNY THING HAPPENED, The Hunnies JELLY'S LAST JAM) as Camila, JL Rey (Regional: EVITA, ANNA IN THE TROPICS, HAMLET, MAN OF LA MANCHA, THE LARAMIE PROJECT, TV: 30 ROCK ,BILLIONS) Kevin Rosario, Analise Rios (Jean's Playhouse: WednesdayTHE ADDAMS FAMILY & Lucy YOU'RE A GOOD MAN, CHARLIE BROWN. Analise is in an upcoming steampunk rock opera tour, NULL PARADOX) as Nina, Leyland Patrick (Noel S Ruiz Theatre:BRING IT ON!; THE LITTLE MERMAID; MEMPHIS; DREAMGIRLS) as Benny, Sophia Introna (Hudson Guild Theater: EMERSON LOSES HER "MIAND"; Rider University: BONNIE AND CLYDE, SHE KILLS MONSTERS, THE TEMPEST) as Vanessa, Nick Palazzo (Playhouse on Park: Adam MISS NELSON IS MISSING; Goodspeed: LINCOLN IN LOVE; Ocean City Theatre Company: CINDERELLA; Cortland Repertory Theatre: FIDDLER ON THE ROOF) as Sonny, Paul Edme (Past credits include AIDA, MEMPHIS, FENCES, Mr. Jenkins HOW TO SUCCEED and Harpo THE COLOR PURPLE) as Graffiti Pete, Sandra Marante (NYC THEATER: Beauty BEAUTY & THE BEAST, Lalume KISMET, Adina ELIXIR OF LOVE. REGIONAL THEATER: Aldonza MAN OF LA MANCHA, TV: BULL (CBS)) as Daniela, Paige Buade (The Hartt School: A ... MY NAME IS ALICE; B.M.T.: Tracey Turnblad HAIRSPRAY; Ursula THE LITTLE MERMAID; AreaStage Company: Woman 2 EDGES; Miami Children's Theater: Woman 2 SONGS FOR A NEW WORLD, Daniela IN THE HEIGHTS) as Carla, and Willie Marte (Venice Theatre: SISTER ACT, FENCES; National Theatre for Education and Arts: DON QUIXOTE, SMOKEY JOE'S CAFÉ) as Piraguero.

The ensemble cast includes: Olivia Ryan (Playhouse on Park: A CHORUS LINE, MAMA D'S OUTRAGEOUS ROMPs; Goodspeed Musicals: SWEETWATER), Gabrielle Baker (iSummer Theatre of New Canaan: THE DANCING PRINCESSES, SINGIN' IN THE RAIN; Wagner College: TITANIC, HAIR), Jon Rodriguez (Off Broadway: LA CANCION (Star) at Repertorio Español, BRING IT ON (LaCienega) with The Broadway Workshop. NYC/Regional: IN THE HEIGHTS (Ensemble, Sonny u/s), and SPRING AWAKENING (Georg)), Isiah Bostic (WCSU: Bobby COMPANY; Flick VIOLET; Aristocrat, Che u/s EVITA), Maya Cuevas (The Hartt School: Ensemble MACBETH, Tituba THE CRUCIBLE; New Generation Theater: Little Inez HAIRSPRAY, Vanessa IN THE HEIGHTS), Jahlil M. Burke (Long Island Theatre: Jake SIDE SHOW, Jason BARE, King Triton THE LITTLE MERMAID), and John Smith (Hartford Stage: Children's Ensemble A Christmas Carol).

Playhouse co-artistic directors and co-founders Sean Harris and Darlene Zoller return to direct and choreograph In The Heights. Melanie Guerin serves as Musical Director for the nearly ten-piece band.

In The Heights runs through July 29. Tickets are now on sale, ranging from $40-$50. Student, Senior, and Let's Go Arts discounts available. There is no show on July 4, Independence Day. For more information about Young Professionals Night at In The Heights, Free Open Mic Nights, and Sunday Talk Backs, visit Or call the Playhouse at 860-523-5900 x10. Playhouse on Park is located at 244 Park Road, West Hartford, CT 06119.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Nancy Sasso Janis, West Hartford Patch: Special mention of Equity member Amy Jo Phillips as the beloved Abuela Claudia. Everything about her performance was the very best I have ever seen. There was a boatload of excellent dancing and singing by the members of the ensemble that included Gabrielle Baker, Jahlil Burke, Maya Cuevas, Jon Rodriguez, Olivia Ryan and Isiah Bostic, a sophomore at WCSU. Another shout out to the members of the spectacular nine-piece pit orchestra that sounded like so much more.

Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant: Youthful idealism is the sustaining force of this neighborhood, but this production makes sure that all generations are heard. The younger characters defer with grace with the matriarchal Abuela Claudia (Amy Jo Phillips). The struggles of parenthood are proclaimed credibly by Kevin and Camila without distracting from the coming-of-age plights of their daughter Nina. Usnavi has his own issues - he has a secure job managing a bodega in an area he knows and loves, but maybe he should be chasing his dreams. One of those dreams is to date Vanessa, who works at a nearby salon and is about to be evicted from her apartment. Sophia Introna is adorably down to earth as Vanessa, transmitting just the right sense of world-weariness. It's nice to see such a solid mix of ages and attitudes onstage, especially for a show that in recent years is often staged at colleges and high schools, where such a range of age and experience is not an option.

Joseph Harrison, BroadwayWorld: The cast of 18 actors fills the Playhouse on Park stage and brings to life all the ensemble numbers in a vibrant way. The "Blackout" number that closes the first act is a great example of the cast working together seamlessly, ending with some amazing fireworks (brilliantly orchestrated by lighting designer Aaron Hochheiser). As Usnavi, Niko Touros is a tour de force, delivering the fast paced and rhythmic lyrics with skill. Hats off to Mr. Touros for making such a challenging role look effortless. The rest of the cast is equally strong with some powerhouse vocals being delivered by Analise Rios (Nina), Sandra Marante (Daniela) and Sophia Introna (Vanessa). As Sonny and Benny, Nick Palazzo and Leyland Patrick give solid performances as do JL Rey and Stephanie Pope as Nina's parents. The real standout for me, however, was Amy Jo Phillips performance as Abuela Claudia. She was warm and lovely in her early scenes, but when given the spotlight ("Patiencia Y Fe") she showed off a powerful voice and gave a passionate and beautiful portrayal of this grandmother who escaped Cuba as a child and lived a long and rich life on this block.

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