BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Theatre In The Park

BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Theatre In The Park

"In The Heights" is Lin-Manuel Miranda's premiere effort at an entirely new way of telling a story through musical theater. "Theater In The Park's" fine indoor production of Miranda's "Heights" is a fine Kansas City area community interpretation of this 2008 four Tony award winner.

"In The Heights" refers to the mostly Latino "Washington Heights" neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Washington Heights is where Lin-Manuel Miranda grew up. It is about life and aspiration in the urban barrio.

BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Theatre In The ParkThe lead character and storyteller of "In The Heights" is named Usnavi de la Vega (Thomas Delgado). Usnavi is an orphan refugee from the Dominican Republic. He operates a small neighborhood grocery called a bodega with his cousin Sonny (Josh Arellano). Next door to the grocery is a hair salon run by Daniela (Jennifer Coville) and Carla (Ella Graham), the home of Usnavi's adopted Grandmother or "Abuela" Claudia (Shawna Pena-Downing), and the offices of the Rosario Car Service run by Kevin Rosario (Ricardo Renteria), his wife Camilia (Pancha Brown) and their long time driver and employee Benny (Joseph Johnson).

Everyone dreams of escaping the poor, lower middle class neighborhood. Usnavi dreams of visiting his parent's homeland and of Vanessa (Celia Thompson), the pretty hairdresser next door. Abuela Claudia would once again like to see the Cuba she left as a young woman. Kevin and Celia long to see their daughter Nina (Guadalupe Valdes) complete her Stanford University education. Benny longs for Nina and to own his own car service some future day. Nina returns from California. Money problems have caused her to drop out of Stanford. Even a partial scholarship was not enough to survive.

No one seems to be able to find a way out of Washington Heights until a chance solution unexpectedly appears. Claudia has won a way out of the neighborhood with a nearly $100,000 lotto ticket. She agrees to share it with those dear to her, but she suddenly dies from a combination of oppressive heat and of not taking expensive medications during a summer power shortage. Claudia's death causes her loved ones to rethink their dreams and reset their potential life courses.BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Theatre In The Park

"In The Heights" is a breakthrough idea and an evolution in form much in the same way that "Hair" once offered an alternative to the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway show model or as Andrew Lloyd Webber's early offerings enhanced and developed the then new model rock opera. With "In The Heights" Lin-Manuel Miranda substitutes rap music where Andrew Lloyd Webber might have once written operatic "recitatifs" (where dialogue would have been sung).

The music and the Latin rhythms of "In The Heights" are infectious. The dancing is outstanding especially when one considers the limited stage space available. The cast is generally excellent throughout. The combination of rap and conventional music works surprisingly well even though it may take a bit of getting used to.

BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at Theatre In The ParkThere are many very good voices in this production. Outstanding among the lead characters are Guadalupe Valdes as Nina, Joseph Johnson as Benny, and Thomas Delgado as Usnavi. Miranda has blessed Nina and Benny with the most traditionally singable songs.

Director Bill Christie and Choreographer LB have paid especial attention to stage pictures in the crowded space. Their attention to detail works wonders and enhances the effect.

This "In The Heights" thing may just catch on. Lin-Manuel's next effort was a little show called "Hamilton."

"In The Heights" continues at the Johnson County Heritage Center through October 21. Tickets are available on the website.Enter Your Article Text Here!

These photos courtesy of "Theatre In The Park," Johnson County Kansas Parks and Recreation.

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From This Author Alan Portner

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