BWW Review: IN THE HEIGHTS at South Bend Civic Theatre
Opening night at the South Bend Civic Theatre's In The Heights a highly anticipated production for the local community theatre. The run has been completely sold out and the audience is lively while we wait for the show to begin. Scenic designer Kyle Chamberlin has done an incredible job with the design for this show. As you walk into the theatre you feel as if Washington Heights has been brought to life with every detail of the set from the crosswalk to the ATM machine. Before the show began Executive Director Aaron Nichols talked about the year long process of the show and how the theatre had reached out the local latino communities to bring in a more diverse cast. The South Bend Civic Theatre has done a good job casting this show and bringing in a new audience as well.
As the show began I instantly noticed a difference in the sound quality with the new sound upgrades the theatre has made. The actors and orchestra can be completely heard without one or the other overpowering one another. From time to time the actors microphones should have been turned off especially with actors screaming which was a bit piercing to the ears.
In The Heights follows the story of Usnavi (Jorge Rivera-Herrans) a puerto rican small shop owner who has his eyes set on Vanessa (Rachel Thomas), who works in the salon next door. Nina (Mimi Bell) has returned home from Stanford University unexpectedly figuring out where she belongs in the world. Her love interest Benny (Samuel Jackson) works for Nina's parents at their cab company and Abuela Claudia (Leah Isabel Tirado) who is the neighborhoods grandmother. The neighborhood goes through someone winning $96,000, a night when the town has a backout and the death of someone near and dear to them.
From the beginning of the show I feel in love with Jorge Rivera-Herrans version of Usnavi. He has taken the pure genius lyrics Miranda wrote and has brought them to life in a new way. With staying true to the character Rivera-Herrans also made it his own. Mimi Bell was a sheer joy to watch perform as Nina with the way she carried herself and sang each note with perfection. Andrea Deleon a South Bend Civic favorite once again wowed me with her star stunning voice and impeccable comedic timing. In every show there is a dancer who stands out and in this show that was Brayden Lynam who plays Graffiti Pete. From the moment he stepped on stage until the final bow he showered the audience with energy. The ensemble vocally was stunning and I was impressed with the amount of talent throughout the show.
I would like to point out though from time to time the choreography and direction felt out of sync with the music and the story. I was underwhelmed with the energy of the ensemble during dance breaks and found that they could have used a bit of trimming. The orchestra during 96,000 was under pitch and was extremely quite but other than that the orchestra did a phenomenal job. Rachel Thomas (Nina) was underwhelming and did not fit the character at all. She from time to time was extremely pitchy and showed no emotion in her acting whatsoever. Samuel Jackson (Benny) has an incredible voice but the audience couldn't understand him he could have enunciated a bit more. I would recommend seeing In The Heights plays now through March 25 at the South Bend Civic Theatre if you can find tickets.