BWW Reviews: IN THE HEIGHTS at Toby's Dinner Theatre of Columbia - A Smashing Success

By: May. 21, 2013
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The last time I attended a show at Toby's highly respected Dinner Theatre in Columbia, MD was the summer of 1990 to see their acclaimed production of SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE. I recall my daughter Britt even auditioned for the part of the young girl who "lost her glasses".

When I saw a full page ad in the Baltimore Sun that IN THE HEIGHTS would be coming to the Toby's, I was really excited and knew I had to see it.

There are many reasons. First, my now grown-up daughter in 2007 was actually living in Washington Heights, the location for the musical. She actually lived on 181st where the action takes place and experienced the August 2003 black-out which is part of the end of Act I.

We first saw the show when it was Off-Broadway at the 37 Arts Theatre. We were seated behind the choreographer, Andy Blankenbuehler. At intermission, I said to him "This is some of the best dancing I've seen since WEST SIDE STORY.

I was shocked to see just an impressive set, such a large cast, and some fabulous music and performances. I even bought my daughter a show souvenir shirt which had 181st St. on it.

I then saw it on Broadway and was so pleased to see it win the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical and to see the star and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda accept his award with an homage to Stephen Sondheim by saying "Mr. Sondheim, I made a hat where there never was a hat".

So it was with great anticipation that I arrived to see what would Toby's do with this Latin-inspired musical filled with Spanish lyrics which starts with a rap number, not the typical musical for the dinner-theatre crowd.

Toby's has garnered its share of Helen Hayes Awards so I did in fact have high expectations and boy were they met.

First I was impressed with the marvelous set with two versions of the lighted up George Washington Bridge. There were front stoops, exits for the subway, a sign for Rosario's Car Service (they don't have cabs in Washington Heights, just a car service where you can always find one in front of Jen's grocery store), and a sign for Daniela's Hair Salon (in Washington Heights they always seem open). Kudos to Set Designer David A. Hopkins who loves details such as gum sticking to lampposts.

The show opens with the rap song by Usnavi (played by the incredibly talented David Gregory) who owns the local bodega where he dispenses coffee, lottery tickets, etc. and he introduces the audience to the inhabitants of the barrio who struggle in everyday life. Look for the tribute to Cole Porter's "The A Train".

There's Usnavi's virtual grandmother Abuela Claudia CrystAl Freeman who is getting up in age and likes to play the lottery every day. Usnavi's young cousin Sonny helps with the bodega and tries to encourage him to start a relationship with the beautiful Vanessa (Nadia Harika) who is trying to leave the neighborhood but has problems getting credit for a new lease.

Owning the local car service are Kevin (David Bosley-Reynolds) and Camila (Tina DeSimone) and they are both wonderful. The book deals with their lovely daughter Nina (Alyssa V. Gomez) who just returns from her freshman year at Stanford and her relationship with local Benny (Marquis White) who works for her father but is never accepted since his not a Latino.

A bright spot is Daniella (Santina Maiolatesi) who owns the hair salon and realizes she must leave the neighborhood due to gentrification.

A highlight for me was Tobias Young who plays Piragua Guy who sells frozen flavored ice and is always in competition with the Mr. Softee ice cream truck. He has a riveting voice in a role that composer Miranda stated he added at a late stage.

The ensemble is absolutely stunning with superb choreography by Christen Svingos. Director Toby Orenstein and Lawrence B. Munsey have accomplished a wonderful theatrical evening for everyone to enjoy. Cedric D. Lyles is responsible for the Musical Direction and on the evening I attended, Doug Lawler directed the orchestra with panache.

To borrow from the insert in the program, "Welcome to The Heights where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open, and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music."

Do not miss this spectacular production and watch for many Helen Hays' Award nominations.

My only suggestion to Toby's is to offer for sale the wonderful CD of the Broadway production.

IN THE HEIGHTS runs until July 21. For reservations, call 410-730-8311 or visit


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