BWW Review: Lyric Theatre Spices Up The Summer with Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS
Lyric closes out their summer season at the Civic Center with HAMILTON mega-star Lin-Manuel Miranda's initial hit musical, the Tony-winning IN THE HEIGHTS. Premiering on Broadway in 2008, this depiction of the flavorful New York City neighborhood at the top of Manhattan paints a vivid and delightful portrait of the struggles and celebrations of everyday Americans.
Though at moments, some chorus members seemed a bit lacking in energy and imprecise in their execution of director Michael Balderrama's choreography, on the whole this is an ensemble who unites to tell their distinct story. The narrator and protagonist of the show Usnavi (played here with wonderfully subtle awkwardness by Juilliard graduate Keith Contreras-McDonald) brings the world of Washington Heights to life through his rhymes and raps, introducing us to the zesty occupants of the neighborhood. Nina (played by Cristina Sastre) a young college student has recently returned home from California to her parents Kevin (Fernando Acevedo) and Camila (Nicole Paloma Sarro.) Unsure of her future, Sastre brings Nina's youthful uncertainty to life through her piercing and dynamic soprano belt. While Acevedo and Sarro repose agreeably in their scenes together as Nina'a attentive but worried parents, each gets the chance to shine in their own solo moments. Vincent J. Hooper as Nina's love interest Benny reveals the heart of an earnest young man looking to do his best and make his mark on the world, and Hooper reveals some flashy dance moves and vocals in the process. Usnavi's young cousin Sonny (Nicolas Garza) provides shrewd silliness as he unsuccessfully tries to prove his manliness to the street-smart and sexy Vanessa, played by Alicia Taylor Tomasko - relishing the role and showcasing her killer voice. Theresa Medina's portrayal of Abuela Claudia offers one of the most touching and vocally exciting moments of the night with her solo, "Paciencia Y Fe," though that moment might have some competition from Paul Sanchez's "Piragua Guy" whose operatic training and credits allow Sanchez's voice to soar in his solo and reprises of his titular song.
All these actors inhabit the vibrant world created for them by the immense talents of the creative team: recreating her design from the original Broadway production, Set Designer Anna Louizos was nominated for a Tony for her work on this show, and it shows. The realistic details of Washington Heights bring this neighborhood to life like the rich, fully-developed character it is. Helena Kuukka's lighting design animates and enhances the music, perfectly accenting the beats and rhythms of the Miranda's Latin-flavored score. The Costume Design by Scott Westervelt is properly stylish and trendy - each character's distinct vibe instantly alerts the audience to their place on The New York City streets.
Michael Balderrama, the resident choreographer of the Chicago production of HAMILTON and an original company member of the Broadway production of IN THE HEIGHTS, keeps the show moving, both directorally and choreographically. His staging provides innovative and exciting stage pictures, suitably utilizing the many levels of Louizos' set, and his guidance of the actors ensures the show stays appropriately loose and in-the-moment, while never losing its momentum.
IN THE HEIGHTS is an exciting capstone to Lyric's wildly successful summer season...don't miss it! Playing at the Civic Center Music Hall through Saturday, August 12, 2017, you can click HERE for tickets or call 405-524-9312.
Photo by www.KirkTuck.com