Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Dazzles at Woodland Opera House

Playing through August 28

By: Aug. 21, 2022
Review: IN THE HEIGHTS Dazzles at Woodland Opera House

My first foray to the historical Woodland Opera House occurred this weekend to take a trip back to Washington Heights, the neighborhood that Lin-Manuel Miranda memorialized in In the Heights, his successful precursor to Hamilton. It was written as an homage to the community that shaped him and the struggles of the immigrants that live there. After premiering on Broadway in 2008, it took home four Tony Awards out of thirteen nominations, securing Miranda's career as a lyricist and composer.

Although it was my third time seeing In the Heights, it was the first time seeing it with Sacramento's own King Midas as director AND choreographer. Jacob Gutierrez-Montoya turns everything he touches into gold, and this production is no exception. A widely celebrated choreographer, Gutierrez-Montoya has most recently been featured in the New York Musical Festival for his work on Generation Me. His contemporary choreography lends an upbeat energy to the show that highlights the hip-hop and Latin sounds.

The neighborhood is cleverly set by designer Robert Pickering, who has utilized the small space to its fullest potential, with the hub of the De La Vega Bodega centrally staged. The Bodega is run by Usnavi, the de facto leader of Washington Heights. He is struggling to keep afloat while dreaming of escaping the barrio. Aided by his immature cousin, Sonny (a charmingly boyish Alexander Quinonez), Usnavi tries to win the also-struggling Vanessa's (Alysia Sambuca) heart through her love of cinnamon-flavored coffee. As we're introduced to each resident of the barrio, it becomes apparent that no matter what country we originate from, we're all chasing dreams of a better life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

From the ambitious Nina (Ahlani Santos) and the neighborhood matriarch, Abuela Claudia (Gabriela Garcia), to the sassy hairdresser Daniela (Arianna Garcia-Manabat) and piraguero (Ben Garcia), this production boasts some of the best talent that our local community theatre world has to offer. A special shout-out must be made about the brilliant dancing of Michelle Dela Cruz, whose Graffiti Pete commanded attention throughout the show. Leading the cast as Usnavi is Elio Gutierrez-Montoya, who has grown significantly in the role since I last saw him play it in 2015. He resembles (in looks and sound) the role's originator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and plays it with a confidence that sells him as the one who can save Washington Heights.

In addition to a stellar cast, the show features a Tony Award-winning score with dazzling dance numbers like "Carnaval del Barrio" and "96,000," along with more emotional songs like the powerful "Paciencia y Fe" and "Everything I Know." As evidenced by the standing ovation at the end of the show, In the Heights will resonate in some way with everyone. As they say in Puerto Rico, wepa! Wow!

In the Heights plays at Woodland Opera House through August 28. More information may be found at woodlandoperahouse.org or by calling (530) 666-9617.

Photo credit: Joshua Wheeler




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