BWW Review: Town Hall's IN THE HEIGHTS Feels Like Home
Before I knew the lyrics to Hamilton, I knew all the words to In The Heights.
(Just kidding, everyone but me knows the lyrics to Hamilton.) But if it wasn't for Lin-Manuel Miranda's musicals, my theatrical rapping skills would be fairly unimpressive.
His first Broadway musical, In The Heights, is nearly a decade old, but its themes of neighborhood gentrification and immigration seem more topical than ever. With a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes--Miranda provided music and lyrics--this winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical is currently being presented at Littleton's Town Hall Arts Center, and what a perfect time to feature a show that puts cultural diversity in such a positive and respectful spotlight.
Set in modern-day Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood over the span of just a few days, Heights follows Usnavi de la Vega, a bodega owner who runs the business with his younger cousin, Sonny. This is the neighborhood where they were practically raised by their "Abuela" Claudia and neighbors like the Rosarios (who run a car dispatch) and Daniela (who owns a salon across the street). When the Rosarios' daughter, Nina, returns home from college, she reconnects romantically with her childhood friend, Benny, who now works for her parents. Meanwhile, Usnavi tries to win the love of his neighbor, Vanessa, who works at Daniela's salon but is trying to move uptown. Amidst the summer heat, a blackout and a winning lottery ticket, the neighborhood works to maintain the spirit its always had.
A dynamic cast is led by Jose David Reynoza as Usnavi, who captures the bodega owner's winsome personality without missing a word of his quick-tongued rapping. His younger cousin, Sonny, is given all the lovable sass you need by Chris Casteneda. Sarah Harmon's vocals soar through Vanessa's songs coupled with a girl-next-door kinda attitude. Dispatcher Benny is played by Randy Chalmers, whose smooth, riffy voice is exactly what the role requires. Nina, played by Rose Van Dyne, gives a genuine performance with a powerhouse voice. Across the board, this cast is fantastic, with more standout feature performances from Margie Lamb as "Abuela" Claudia, Chelley Canales as a commanding and feisty Daniela, Anthony Rivera and Nancy Begley as the Rosarios and George Zamarripa as a fierce Piragua Guy with a voice that will make you want to buy whatever he's selling.
Directed and choreographed by Nick Sugar, Heights brings the kind of flavor you'd hope from a musical about the barrio, with modern movement reminiscent of the show's Tony-winning choreo. A fantastic band is led by Donna Kolpan Debreceni, and I'm always so grateful when Town Hall brings live music to its productions. With pulsating Latin rhythms, gorgeous ballads and the kind of original story I wish you'd see more on Broadway, Heights has a heart that feels like home.
Following each show for the remainder of the run, the cast will be collecting donations, which will be sent to help victims of the recent hurricanes. Many of the cast members have families hailing from these countries.
In The Heights plays Littleton's Town Hall Arts Center through Oct. 8. For detailed ticketed information and performance dates, visit TownHallArtsCenter.org.
Photos by Becky Toma