BWW Review: Impassioned and Invigorating, Virginia Repertory Theatre Delivers Impressive IN THE HEIGHTS
Before the blockbuster musical Hamilton made Lin-Manuel Miranda a household name, the writer, composer and lyricist charmed Broadway with a different kind of anthem-his salute to the upper-Manhattan community of Washington Heights. The Tony-Award-winning musical IN THE HEIGHTS, conceived by Miranda, explores the American dream through the eyes of those who call the Washington Heights barrio "Home."
Lin-Manuel Miranda's freshman musical, with an assist from writer Quiara Alegria Hudes, unfolds numerous stories around the days leading up to an eventful Fourth of July holiday in the barrio. Usnavi (JJ Caruncho) owns the corner store and has eyes for beauty salon stunner Vanessa (Arielle Jacobs), but he hungers to return to his birthplace of the Dominican Republic. Nina (Shea Gomez), the first in the community to attend college, is afraid to tell her family she dropped out during her freshman year at Stanford University. Benny (Josh Marin) works for Nina's dad and has aspirations of owning a business of his own. Sonny (James Schoppe) is Usnavi's languid younger cousin who wants justice for his community. Abuela (Yvonne Strumecki) is the matriarch everyone in the barrio respects as his or her own.
Under Nathaniel Shaw's masterful direction, the polished cast delivers at every turn in Washington Heights. Whether it's the corner store, the beauty shop, the taxi business or the piragua stand, activity on the bustling streets keeps the production snapping along. Ben Miller's blue-chip orchestra peppers the streets with blends of salsa and Latin pop. Straight from the Broadway cast of Hamilton, Karla Garcia adds pulsating choreography that fuses hip-hop, salsa and street dancing to great effect.
Anna Louizos' scaled-down Broadway set fits perfectly on the November Theatre stage and is matched by Joe Doran's equally impressive lighting design. Sarah Grady's urban costumes are bright, outfitting the production with authenticity; and Derek Dumais' sound design puts audiences right in the heart of the barrio.
An ensemble narrative in the vein of RENT, each member of the cast breathes abundant life to his or respective roles. JJ Caruncho leads the production with an inspiring performance, and navigates Lin-Manuel Miranda's brand of wordplay with ease. Arielle Jacobs and Shea Gomez lace the production with personality and big voices. James Schoppe adds humor as Sonny. Melissa Vasquez Cartwright is the life of the party as Daniela. Yvonne Strumecki has an incredibly moving, spotlight moment that shows off her vocal prowess in "Paciencia y Fe."
IN THE HEIGHTS is a universal story of life, hope and new beginnings; and with this pitch-perfect, dynamic production that transcends generational and cultural boundaries, Virginia Repertory Theatre breaks new ground. IN THE HEIGHTS is on stage at the November Theatre now through July 30.