BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Takes Musicals to a New Height in Kansas City at Musical Theater Heritage
From the first bar of the opening song the audience quickly realizes this is not just another musical, it is an experience. The spectacular production of IN THE HEIGHTS opened Saturday, August 10 at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center under the direction of Nedra Dixon. This is the first production Dixon has directed for MTH and what a debut she made.
Though at times it was a little difficult to understand and follow the rap, salsa, and Spanish infused songs, the energy of the performers was infectious and mesmerizing. I quickly found myself tapping my toe to a music style I don't prefer and grinning with excitement to a language I do not understand. This is one show that I would gladly return to see.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music and lyrics to IN THE HEIGHTS and Quiara Alegria Hude wrote the book. The musical opened Off-Broadway in February of 2007 and was nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards, winning for Outstanding Ensemble Performance, and for Best Choreography. Kenny Personett provided the magnificent choreography for the MTH production. The musical made its Broadway debut in March of 2008 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. The production received 13 Award Nominations with Miranda winning for Best Original Score and was nominated for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical. IN THE HEIGHTS also won the Tony for Best Musical, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations. The same year it won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album.
The show is set in the mostly Hispanic neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. Usnavi, played by Francisco Javier Villegas, runs a small store and has a tremendous crush on Vanessa, played by Lily Nicholas. Usnavi discovers he has won a $96,000 lottery and begins to make plans to leave the neighborhood. That is until he discovers his true feelings during a blackout.
Nina, portrayed by Gabriela Delano, returns to the barrio having left school in California. She rekindles a relationship with Benny, played by Anthony J. Gasbarre III, who works for her father in his business. The father, played by Keenan Ramos, is intent on Nina returning to school and that she does not pursue a relationship with Benny.
To say the cast is loaded with talent would be an understatement. It was easy to see the pride that each was taking not only in their own performance but in the overall production. There was two outstanding performances, Villegas as Usnavi and Delano as Nina. I have had the pleasure to see Villegas perform and consider him one of the best vocalists in the area. On opening night, I discovered something else about him, this man can act. He ran through a barrage of emotions with the skill of a well-groomed performer. After the show, he told me, "When I heard the album for the first time, I knew it was me. . .I took it and I made it me."
Delano gave a powerful performance enhanced by a tremendous voice. Late in the second act, I watched as a tear rolled down her cheek while she sang. Delano, who resides in New York, said she had stopped at MTH while returning home to audition for the 2020 season. It was then that MTH asked her to prepare a song to audition for IN THE HEIGHTS. At the end of the audition, she said she was informed that rehearsals would start the next day.
IN THE HEIGHTS continues at Musical Theater Heritage through September 1. To become a part of this amazing experience purchase tickets online at www.musicaltheaterheritage.com.
Photos by J. Robert Schraeder