Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse

The production runs from Mar 15 - Apr 14

By: Mar. 24, 2024
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
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In January, The Gateway Playhouse put on a fabulous production of Fiddler on the Roof, a show about community in the face of change. Now the Gateway Playhouse is putting on In the Heights, the inverse to Fiddler. With In the Heights, we see a community of Latin Americans from all different countries that are deciding what do we pass on instead of what do we take with us?

Before Hamilton, before his Disney Renaissance (from Moana to Encanto), there was In the Heights, the show that introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda to the world. Miranda attended Wesleyan University where he enrolled in a student writers program called Playwrights Attic under the tutelage of M. Graham Smith (aka Matt). It was here where the creation of In the Heights began. Jonathan Larson’s Rent had a significant impact on Miranda. With Rent, Larson told a story about young artists struggling to survive and create a life in the East Village of the late 80’s/early 90’s. Wanting to connect to the MTV generation to the theater, Larson chose to write the musical score as a pop/rock opera. Miranda wanted to emulate that with In the Heights. He wanted to create a show that captured life in Washington Heights, his home. Instead of rock music, Miranda chose to incorporate the sounds of his youth: salsa, merengue and hip hop. After successful presentations, Miranda wanted to develop his idea into a full show. He asked his mentor Matt to direct the show. Unfortunately, Matt turned him down. At that time, Matt couldn’t take on the responsibility of directing a show with what was going on in his life at that time; Miranda was crushed. Many would have quit after that, but not Lin, he kept going. Miranda started writing In the Heights in 1999 and finalized the show in 2005. During that time, Miranda met and brought on his frequent collaborators: director Thomas Kail, musical director Alex Lacamoire and choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler. He also brought on book writer Quiara Alegria Hudes. After opening off-Broadway in 2007, In the Heights transferred to Broadway in 2008, where it ran for 1,184 performances and won 4 Tony awards including Best Musical. Miranda did not let one no deter his dreams. He remained determined to make his dreams a reality. That is what In the Heights is all about…the power of dreams and achieving them. The Gateway Playhouse is currently putting on a dream production of In the Heights that you don’t want to miss!

In the Heights turns the “lights up on Washington Heights” over the course of three days in the summer heat. In the largely Dominican American neighborhood, we are introduced to a wide array of characters who all dream an iteration of the American dream. There’s Nina, an intelligent girl, who made it out of the barrio, struggling to please her over-protective parents Kevin and Carla who dream their child will have a better life then their own. There’s Benny, the love of Nina’s life, who dreams of being accepted by Nina’s parents and have his own business. There’s Vanessa, the beautiful beautician that catches the eye of every man in town, who dreams of getting out of the barrio and getting her own apartment. These are just some of the wonderful characters that have their own el suañitos (little dreams). At the center of it all is Usnavi, the local bodega owner who saves every penny dreaming of a better life and who hopes one day to return to the Dominican Republic with his beloved grandmother in spirit Abuela Claudia. Will any of these dreams come true? They just might, depending on who is in possession of the winning lottery ticket Usnavi sold at the bodega.

The Gateway Playhouse went all out for this truly amazing production. First, they took it upon themselves to rent the original set from the Broadway production, and dios mio, does it take your breath away. You walk into the theater and are immediately transported; you feel like you are outside on the streets of New York City. I thought they converted the theater into an outdoor amphitheater; that’s how realistic it is. How Anna Louizos did not win the Tony for her set design is beyond me. Secondly, the Gateway was able to replicate the White Plains Performing Arts Center’s award-worthy 2023 production of In the Heights by recruiting that production’s director/choreographer Vincent Ortega and some of its ensemble. After serving as associate director/choreographer to countless productions at the Gateway, this is Ortega’s first time directing and he does a phenomenal job. Each number is perfectly staged and his choreography brilliantly echoes Blankenbuehler and will have you out of your seat. You will not be able to take your eyes off of the fantastic dancers in this show, especially Manuela Agudelo and Marina Vidal. The opening number is worth price of admission alone. Some other memorable numbers included: “It Won’t Be Long”, “96,000”, “Hundreds of Stories” and my personal favorite, “Alabanza”. “Alabanza” is absolutely gorgeous and will tug at your heartstrings; bring tissues!

The entire ensemble is absolutely fantastic. Ryan Alvarado has the daunting task of taking on the role of Usnavi, the role that made Lin-Manuel Miranda a star. He is absolutely charming and perfectly captures the eagerness and awkwardness of Usnavi. No wonder Miranda chose him to portray Alexander Hamilton in the first National tour of Hamilton. Chelsea Zeno and Christian Brailsford are living definitions of perfection in their roles of Vanessa and Benny respectively. They both have unbelievable voices and just when you think you’ve heard their best, you hear something better; there is no end to their greatness. I loved the depth Ruben Flores and Francisca Munoz brought to their roles of Kevin and Camila; they turned often overlooked numbers like “Inutil” and “Enough” into stand outs. Javier Garcia was excellent as the Piragua Guy and Michelle Alves will leave you in stitches as Daniela.

When Miranda was in the early stages of writing In the Heights and was sharing his material with M. Graham Smith, Lin received the best compliment of his career, a compliment he continues to strive for. Matt said, “You make an audience feel taken care of.” That is exactly what Lin does with all of his projects. Like Miranda, the Gateway also make their audiences feel taken care of. You definitely want to get over the Bellport, see the Gateway’s production of In the Heights, and relish in the comfort. Alabanza Gateway!

Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
Ryan Alvarado (center) & Company
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
Ryan Alvarado (center) & Company
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
Chelsea Zeno (center) and Company
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
Sydia Cedeno (center) and Company
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
Javier Garcia
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
(l-r) Ruben Flores, Francisca Munoz, Alia Munsch
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
(l-r) Felipe Cristancho Rodriguez, Chrisian Brailsford, Javier Garcia,
​​​​​​Michelle Alves, Ryan Alvarado, Chelsea Zeno, & Company
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Finds Home at The Gateway Playhouse
Ryan Alvarado and Chelsea Zeno (center) and Ensemble



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