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Review: IN THE HEIGHTS, Raleigh Little Theatre

A long-awaited production finally takes the stage

Review: IN THE HEIGHTS, Raleigh Little Theatre

Raleigh Little Theatre's production of IN THE HEIGHTS was initially announced in February 2020, just before the Coronavirus pandemic shut down theaters across the country. So it's a joy to finally see it make its way to the stage in June 2022. Directed by Patrick Torres, the story of Washington Heights is brought to life by talented local Latinx community members.

In the time between the production's original planned run and its current one, in June 2021, a movie version of the show was released to much critical acclaim. John Cho's warm-hearted, colorful adaptation popularized the musical with new audiences. RLT's show is an excellent way for those who loved the movie to see the musical in its original form on stage.

Long before HAMILTON, Lin-Manuel Miranda created the concept, music, and lyrics for IN THE HEIGHTS, a musical about the neighborhood of New York City in which he grew up: Washington Heights. With a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, the musical follows several interconnected storylines in the neighborhood in early July.

Review: IN THE HEIGHTS, Raleigh Little Theatre Usnavi runs a bodega but dreams of returning to his native Dominican Republic. Vanessa wants to make it out of the barrio and move downtown but struggles to gather the money to get an apartment. Nina is returning home from her first year of college at Stanford and is afraid to disappoint the community that views her as "the one who made it out." Benny wants to prove himself as an employee in Nina's father's taxi company. Romance, family, hope, ambition, and fear are interwoven to create a beautiful ensemble show.

With a show centered around the idea of community, it's essential to have dedicated actors in every role, and RLT does. Gabriel Cortez is charming as the Piragua Guy and the hair salon ladies, played by Mairym Azcona and Roni Nicole, are so fun. Nicholas Claudio reminded me of Lin-Manuel Miranda in the role of Usnavi and does an excellent job with the many rapid lyrics, which aren't easy.

Review: IN THE HEIGHTS, Raleigh Little Theatre But the two standouts of the show are easily Cristina Duchesne-Rivera as Vanessa and Tippy Thornton as Abuela Claudia. Duchesne-Rivera is the whole package as a performer with great acting, singing, dancing, and fantastic stage presence, making her believable as the ambitious and much sought-after Vanessa. But Abuela Claudia's solo, "Paciencia Y Fe," is the best in the show, as Thornton perfectly invokes the story of a woman who immigrated from Cuba as a child.

Jeremy David Clos's costume design does a great job of paying homage to some of the original Broadway costumes while still making them their own, and Lydia Watt's scenic design is fantastic. The bodega set-piece and piragua cart were both highlights and went a long way towards grounding the story in its New York City setting.

Whether you're a fan of the film or have never seen IN THE HEIGHTS before, you definitely want to check out Raleigh Little Theatre's production. With its solid performances and beautiful message, this is the perfect show to kick off your summer.

IN THE HEIGHTS is at Raleigh Little Theatre through June 26. You can find more information and buy tickets here.

Photo Credit: Jeannine Borzello

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