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In the Heights

a Musical
by Lin-Manuel Miranda (songs) & Quiara Alegria Hudes (book)

COMPANY : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
VENUE : Aurora Theatre [WEBSITE]
ID# 4928

SHOWING : July 21, 2016 - August 28, 2016



Filled with pulsating Caribbean rhythms, vibrant hip-hop and lyrical melodies, this highly-acclaimed musical is a universal story of a Latin community in New York’s Washington Heights. A place where the coffee from Usnavi’s corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the brink of change. Like his community, Usnavi struggles to decide which traditions to keep and which to leave behind, in his search for a place called home.

Director Justin Anderson
Music Director Ann-Carol Pence
Ensemble Fenner Eaddy
Ensemble Tina Fears
Ensemble Bryan Montemayor
Daniela Lilliangina Quinones
Kevin Anthony Rodriguez
Vanessa Julissa Sabino
Camila Maria Sager
Ensemble Benjamin Sims
Ensemble Kari Twyman
Carla India Sada Tyree
Piragua Guy Juan Carlos Unzueta
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Not Morningside
by playgoer
Friday, July 29, 2016
Aurora Theatre is staging a dynamic, kinetic production of "In the Heights." Shannon Robert’s triple-decker set shows a Washington Heights street with two buildings, shops on the first floor (bodega in the stage right building and hair salon and taxi service in the stage left building) and apartments with balconies above. The background upstage has a screen for sky projections fronted by two George Washington Bridge towers in perspective. The nicely realized set is populated to overflowing in every other number, it seems, with María Cristine Fusté’s overactive lighting playing across the faces of the large cast to add to the energy. The activity continues almost to the point of overload.

Director Justin Anderson and choreographer Ricardo Aponte have staged the show to keep visual interest throughout. The salsa-inflected music and movements keep the burner set on high for most of the show. There are quiet solo and duo moments that are more of a simmer, but once they’re over, a full boil once again erupts. It’s exciting, with the excitement taking the place of an engagingly plot-filled story. Especially fine dance work comes from Joseph J. Pendergrast, who starts the show with a wow of a solo dance, and from Robert Mason II and Pytron Parker in the ensemble, using sharp moves, grace, and a charismatic presence to excel in the group numbers.

The cast is filled with excellent performers who make Courtney Flores’ costumes look great and who keep the show flowing throughout. All the local performers are terrific, as expected, and are not overshadowed in the least by the imported performers (Diego Klock-Perez as a very engaging and sympathetic Usnavi; Juan Carlos Unzueta as a glorious-voiced Piragua Guy). The only performance I really don’t feel is on the mark is that of Christian Magby as Sonny. The character of Sonny is written to be optimistic and naïve, with a bit of a streetwise swagger. With Mr. Magby, the swagger predominates, with Mr. Klock-Perez seeming the sweeter and more wide-eyed of the two cousins.

That’s not the only problem in the content of the show. The plot has several threads, one of which is Usnavi’s attempts to connect romantically with Vanessa (Julissa Sabino) and another of which is the interracial romance between college dropout Nina (Diany Rodriguez) and her father’s employee Benny (Garret Turner). The problem is that there is next to no chemistry between the would-be lovers. When Nina encounters Usnavi, however, there are sparks aplenty, largely due to the superb acting skills of Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Klock-Perez. The two are meant to be just friends, but their interaction makes the audience want more. Consequently, the "happy" ending of the couples paired off is less than satisfying.

Another unsatisfying moment occurs in Ms. Fusté’s lighting scheme. A blackout occurs in the show just before halfway. The character of Abuela (the powerful Felicia Hernandez) has noted that light pollution prevents her from seeing the stars in Queens. In the blackout, she can. She can, but we can’t. An opportunity for a magical lighting moment passes by unfulfilled.

Aurora’s "In the Heights" goes heavy on the glitz and light on the heart. There are engaging performances throughout, but the show’s structure of having every other number a full-cast showstopper-wannabe wears thin after a while. It’s enjoyable to sit through in a way that rewards short attention spans, but it misses the mark of being a truly terrific production. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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