Sunday, July 14, 2013

Applause! Applause! Review of In The Heights at Cultural Arts Playhouse by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens

This review of In The Heights performed at the Cultural Arts Playhouse was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 3 (2013) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!

In The Heights
Cultural Arts Playhouse (625 Old Country Road, Plainview, NY)
Reviewed 7/13/13

In The Heights is a musical with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes.  The show opened on Broadway on March 9, 2008 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre.  The production was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards, winning four: Best Musical, Best Original Score,  Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations.  The musical played its final performance on January 9, 2011 after 29 previews and 1,184 regular performances. 

The story is set over the course of three days in Washington Heights, New York. It involves a number of characters who live on 183rd Street: Usnavi, the narrator who owns a small bodega; "Abuela" Claudia, the loving matriarch; Vanessa, Usnavi's love interest who works at Daniella's salon with Carla; Nina Rosario, the daughter of Kevin & Camilla, who is the first in her family to go to college but has dropped out after losing her scholarship; Benny, an non-Spanish speaking employee at Kevin Rosario's Car Service who has an interest in Nina; Sonny, a younger cousin of Usnavi who works at the Bodega; The Piragua Guy and Graffiti Pete. Missing from the ensemble are any characters who sell or use drugs, who are gay, lesbian or transgender, or who have had any children out of wedlock. The book has been scrubbed clean and even Graffiti Pete turns out to be a great artist who inspires Usnavi to stay in the neighborhood since he eventually recognizes it as his true home.

This production features an extraordinary cast of very talented people. Everyone more than holds their own both as actors and singers. George Anganostakos is appropriately low key as Usnavi, the central character of the show who owns the local bodega; Jojo Minasi goes the extra mile to fit into his new ethnicity in the role of Sonny, Usnavi's younger cousin; Taneisha Corbin hits a home run as the lottery playing "Abuela" Claudia, the beloved matriarch who effectively "brought up" Usnavi after his parents died and who made sure Nina Rosario always did her homework; Justin McAteer as Benny and Laura Laureano as Nina make magic on stage whenever they have scenes or sing together; Leigh Anne Muscarella as Daniella and Michelle Belio as Carla perfectly portray the local unisex salon hairstylists where gossip is traded on a daily basis; Steffy Jolin, also a salon worker, takes her character to another and more complicated level; Jonathan Ghandforoush and Camilla-Elisa Galindez, who play Kevin and Camilla Rosario, each have their moments to shine; Keith Weiss is the perfect Piragua Guy and Gregg Georges is in character as Graffiti Pete.

You will enjoy most of the musical numbers in this show. In The Heights, Breathe, It Won't Be Long Now, Inutil (Useless), 96,000, When You're Home, Sunrise, Everything I Know and When The Sun Goes Down are standouts.

I highly recommend you see this production. You are guaranteed a very enjoyable time. Greeting me at the box office this particular evening was Jesse Pimpinella, the dashing, young, charismatic House Manager. His welcoming smile was just an added benefit of seeing In The Heights at the Cultural Arts Playhouse.

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