IN THE HEIGHTSBook by Quiara Alegria Hudes, Music & Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music Theatre of Denton
Director – Rebecca McDonald
Music Director – John Norine, Jr.
Choreographer – Rebecca McDonald
Assistant Director – Audrey Keen
Assistant Music Director – Benjamin Brown
Stage Manager – Jason Joos
Assistant Stage Manager – Sarah Nobles
Set Design – John Norine, Jr.
Special Scenic Design – McKay Harcus
Costume Design – Catherine D’Annibale
Hari and Makeup Design – Kevyn Loggans
Lighting Design – Les C Deal, Kristen Brasher
Sound Design – Danica Bergeron
Properties – Sarah Nobles
Graffiti Pete – Tommy Toliver
Usnavi – Jose Ocampo III
Piragua Guy – Anthony Ortega
Abuela Claudia – Chilli Peña
Kevin Rosario– Michael Ramirez
Camila Rosario – Natalia Borja
Daniela – Sienna Riehle
Carla – Daniela Ruelas
Sonny – Vinnie Serionel
Benny – Jaydn Tchandja
Vanessa – Meagan Black
Nina Rosario – Natalia Botello
Ensemble – Alessandra Aguilar, Michael Alonzo, Makaela Dickerson, Priscilla Hatcher, Tatiana John, Chelcie Parry, Bryan Pineda, Jacob Rodriguez, Nicole Romero, Kelsey Solis, Deborah Valcin
Conductor – John Norine, Jr.
Keyboards – Sopon Suwannakit, Chris Crotwell
Reed – Randy Honeycutt
Trumpet – Dax Stokes
Guitar – Benjamin Holt
Bass – Benjamin Brown
Drums – Brian Radcliffe
Percussion – Brad Hawkins
Reviewed Performance: 5/8/2016
Reviewed by Eric Bird, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Currently Lin-Manuel Miranda has taken Broadway and the nation by storm with his Pulitzer Prize winning mega-hit, Hamilton. This, like In the Heights, is a rap filled musical that has become such a box office hit that you can’t get a ticket till January 2017! Last week Miranda’s musical made Tony Award history by becoming the only show (either play or musical) to earn a record breaking 16 nominations.
MTD’s In the Heights is under the direction of Rebecca McDonald. There were a few times where there were some very nice visuals, especially when they had the whole cast filling up the space. This helped give the feel of a crowded city in New York. However, I felt that the blocking and the action was underdeveloped, which made it difficult for me to enjoy the show. The characters didn’t use the space they had, so I didn’t have much to watch. This gave the show an artificial feeling.
As well as directing the show, Rebecca McDonald was also the choreographer. There were some good elements to the show, as well as some elements that were hard for me to watch. When the opening number “In The Heights” began I was immediately concerned. Many of the dancers were off on their timing, making me cringe and worry about how the show would progress. Though they were off on their timing within the choreography, there was a large amount of energy, which helped some with the performance. “The Club” was another number where there were major issues with the timing; it seemed to be mostly chaos with some occasional basic patterns. While that helped to create a club feel, it made it hard for me to keep track of what was happening within the story. Overall, there were good elements to the choreography, I liked how Latin dances were incorporated throughout the show, but they were not well executed.
John Norine, Jr. served as the music director. The different actors hit and held their notes well and I didn’t hear anything discordant in the show. The group numbers were okay, though there were many times where it was difficult to hear what they were singing. In addition to this, the solos were plain and often hard to understand. Characters didn’t do much while singing a solo and had little emotion in their voice. Additionally, they needed to project more to be understandable. So there weren’t any errors like missed notes, but the singing didn’t draw me in or captivate me.
Norine did double duty as he also was the scenic designer. He created an effective set which showed us the neighborhood of Washington Heights where the musical took place. The stage consisted of Rosario’s Taxi service on the left, which had a moveable table that they used for when they were inside the office. There was a small patio directly above the taxi service where some small scenes took place, doubling as Abuela Claudia’s and a young couple’s patio. On the right was De la Vega’s Bodega, with a moveable cashier’s counter which was moved out when the store was opened. The bodega had another patio upstairs. On the far left of the stage there was a very colorful and artistic graffiti painting which helped to set the environment of the stage. The set fit in perfectly, making it easy for me to visualize it as an area of Washington Heights.
As someone who grew up in Mexico, and spent a few years in Puerto Rico, I have become very familiar with the Hispanic culture. Among the Hispanic culture appearance is a very important detail. The costumes as designed by Catherine D’Annibale fit in perfectly with this idea. Usnavi wore a bright red button up shirt throughout that kept him very visible and helped him stand out from the other characters and define his role as the owner of the bodega. Daniela, Carla, and Vanessa were easy to believe as workers at Daniela’s salon, with their trendy fashion of short dresses. The ensemble had good costumes including short shorts and skirts to help portray the summer heat. I also appreciated the occasional clothing with a stars-and-stripes design to allude to Independence Day, which occurs in the musical. These costumes helped to create a true sense of the environment for the show.
Les C Deal and Kristen Brasher together did lighting design. The show used some unique lighting to help with time transitions and even hint at other locations. At times a character would reminisce about his or her ancestral home in the Caribbean and the lights would adopt a pink glow, perfect for sunset on a beach. Another well done moment was a fireworks show for Independence Day, with red, blue, and white lights shining onto different parts of the stage to represent different fireworks. There were some times when a spotlight was turned on and then needed adjusting to highlight someone on stage and this got distracting. Overall the lighting was well done but did have some errors.
Danica Bergeron was the sound designer for the production. The sounds were limited, with the music being played by a live orchestra. The actors were at times very difficult to hear since the music was much louder than them. Usnavi’s body mic seemed to be having some issues, especially when he was performing the rap numbers. These issues made it hard to follow what was happening.
Properties were arranged by Sarah Nobles. This show didn’t use many props, but the ones that were used were prepared well. The piragua vendor had realistic piragua and flavor bottles on his cart. The radio for the limousine and taxi service looked authentic, complete with a handheld piece for characters to speak into. Abuela Claudia had her box of mementos with an assortment of pictures, programs, and treasured elementary school assignments. While the props were few, the ones that were used were prepared well.
Jose Ocampo III played the part of Usnavi, the narrator for the show and the owner of the small bodega on the corner of Washington Heights. Ocampo had a lot of energy and movement, with a strong personality. As a narrator he was good in presenting the storyline, though his diction was at times hard to understand. Ocampo had several rap sequences in the show. Though he did alright with them, it was at times hard to understand what he was rapping. During those scenes I mostly read his body language because his enunciation wasn’t that great. Overall I could understand the story from him but it took effort on my part to get it.
Vanessa, Usnavi’s love interest who works at Daniela’s salon, was portrayed by Meagan Black. Black didn’t incorporate much personality into her role. She hit the notes and spoke clearly but didn’t stand out. Black had good facial expressions for the scenes where she was talking on the phone to other characters but didn’t imbue personality into what she did. This made it hard for me to bond with her character.
Natalia Botello played the part of Nina Rosario, the young woman who had left the neighborhood to go to Stanford University. Nina has a fairly good voice, though it was at times drowned out by the orchestra. I enjoyed the playful banter during the song “Benny’s Dispatch” and her performance in “Alabanza”. During “Benny’s Dispatch” Botello was the most natural. She modulated her tone well and was very flirtatious with her love interest. At other times Botello seemed forced, as if she was just reciting the lines.
I thoroughly enjoyed Jaydn Tchandja’s portrayal of Benny. Tchandja has a strong presence onstage, with a very good voice that was very noticeable during the songs “Benny’s Dispatch” and “Sunrise”. He was strong and comfortable in his character and reacted well with the other characters, knitting his brows when he was insulted by them and slumping his shoulders when he comes to hard times.
Sonny, played by Vinnie Serionel, was by far my favorite character in the performance. He had a high amount of energy and was very good at portraying a Latino teenager that wants the world to revolve around him with his demanding presence. He was full of himself on stage as befitted his character, fluctuated his voice to show his emotions, and was a pretty good dancer. I enjoyed every minute of his stage time.
Chilli Peña played the part of Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the Barrio that can be considered everyone’s abuela. I appreciated her performance in the song “Paciencia y Fe”. She sang in such an authentic way that I felt her concern for the other characters. Also, Pena used body language to her advantage. She was stooped and hobbled around a lot, showing that her character had underlying problems. I really like how Pena stayed consistent with her body language and accent throughout the show.
Anthony Ortega played the part of the Piragua Guy (piragua is the Puerto Rican version of a snow-cone). I enjoyed his movement when he was performing his solos, “Piragua” and “Piragua [Reprise]”. He had a very random, yet comedic role of a person that can go out and relax, though he may have a long day of work in the heat. Ortega’s dancing while singing was very appropriate for his role and helped portray the culture of the show.
Michael Ramirez played the part of Kevin Rosario, Nina’s father and the owner of Rosario’s Taxi and Limousine service. Ramirez seemed quiet and stiff onstage, with an awkward solo in “Inutil”. Though he hit the notes, there was nothing there to really pull me in and enthrall me in his characterization’s arc. His tone was appropriately modified based on when he was talking with Camila and with Nina, and especially when he was interacting with Benny onstage. I did enjoy his solo “Atencion”, where he had the appropriate mournful, reserved feel for the song.
Alongside Ramirez was Natalia Borja, playing the part of Camila Rosario. Borja made sure to assert herself on stage, creating an authority figure, which worked for the part of a mother. But there was little variety to what she did; she spoke to her character’s husband like she did her child. While this works for the song “Enough,” there needed to be more moderation in her tone and actions earlier in the show.
Daniela, the owner of the salon and Vanessa’s boss, was played by Sienna Riehle. I really liked how Riehle maintained an accent throughout the show to portray the mixed culture of the barrio and she was always understandable. Riehle also danced with confidence, bringing a very Caribbean feel to the stage. While none of this was exceptionally well done, Riehle was very consistent in her performance and the portrayal of her character.
Tommy Toliver played Graffiti Pete. Toliver had a very demanding presence and commanded attention whenever he was on stage. I liked his confidence. He put emotion into what he did and I could sense it. This did mean that he overpowered other characters onstage.
The ensemble did well at filling up the space on the stage, giving the city a lived-in hustle, though at times there was too much going on onstage, which made it difficult to focus on the main characters and to follow the storyline. The ensemble had a good amount of energy, with some individual good dance moves, though when they tried to come together as a group it was chaotic and hard to enjoy.
Also, though they weren’t visible, the orchestra did well in their musical execution of Miranda’s score. They had great music that had a very definite Latin feel to it, even if it was too loud for me to be able to hear the actors. They did well at hitting their notes and were in sync with each other.
The performance of In The Heights is good, though I can’t say that it was great. There was a high amount of energy, which always helps a performance. There were some individual performances that stood out, though what made the show the most worthwhile was the storyline that it portrays.
Music Theatre of Denton, Campus Theatre, 214 W Hickory St., Denton, TX 76201
Performances run through May 15th.
Show times: Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30PM, Sundays at 2:00PM.
TICKET PRICES: Adult - $20; Seniors - $18’ Student - $15. For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.musictheatreofdenton.com or call 940-382-1915