Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 19, 2018

REVIEW: Playhouse on Park, In The Heights

Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT
through July 29, 2018
by Stuart W. Gamble

Photo by Curt Henderson
Lin Manuel Miranda’s (of “Hamilton” fame) vibrant first success, “In The Heights,” has blazed its electrifying energy onto the stage at Playhouse on Park. Winner of the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical, its power to entertain, delight, and move has not aged a bit since its decade ago debut. With a score featuring a hip-hop enhanced infusion of Salsa, Merengue, Bolero, and Mambo, and a cast of energetic actors, singers, and dancers, “In The Heights” delights and delivers.

Miranda’s musical centers on the lives of various denizens of Washington Heights in NYC. The two main characters Usnavi De La Vega (the affable Niko Touros), a Dominican immigrant and owner of a bodega on 96th street; and Nina Rosario (delicately played by Analise Rios), the Puerto Rican, college-age daughter of a family who owns a limousine service, whose stories are presented in Usnavi’s (and the ensemble’s) rousing rendition of the show’s opening number and title. Other characters introduced throughout the show include Usnavi’s irresponsible cousin Sonny (Nick Palazzo), Nina’s parents Kevin (JL Rey) and Camila (Stephanie Pope), Abuela Claudia (Amy Jo Phillips), Benny (Leyland Patrick), and street-savvy Vanessa (Sophia Introna).

The musical’s scintillating and scorching score simply flows, making nearly three hours of show time feel like a few fleeting moments. Musical highlights also include the cheery “It Won’t Be Long Now,” the tense “96,000,” the flavorful “Piragua,” the powerful “Enough,” the socially and politically charged “Blackout/We Are Towerless.” But this writer’s personal favorites are the extremely moving “Alabanza” led by Touros and Rios on a stage lit only with votive candles, and the infectious “Carnaval Del Barrio” sensuously sung by the striking Sandra Marante.

Choreographer Darlene Zoller merits special attention. Her imaginatively staged dancing utilizes the entire three-quarter stage space and the aisles as well. Director Sean Harris has done a superb job of bringing together this super-talented company who are so energetic; there is not a single dull moment throughout this marvelous show. The only suggestion is that the orchestra, while superbly directed by Melanie Guerin, play a bit more softly, since a couple of the singers were drowned out.

The themes of “In The Heights,” maintaining a strong community and knowing when to let go of the past and to move on with one’s life, are durable ones that strike to the hearts and souls of its audiences