IN THE HEIGHTSMusic and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Artes de la Rosa Cultural Center for the Arts
Directed y Adam Adolfo
Music Direction by Kristin Spires
Choreography by Elise Lavallee
Scenic Design by Sarahi Salazar
Sound Design by Jordana Abrenica
Costume Design by Marcus Lopez
Lighting Design by Aaron Sanchez
Scenic Charge Artistry by Jessica Lavilla
Fight Choreography by Cheyney Coles and Adam Adolfo
Matt Ransdell, Jr. – Usnavi
Lorens Portalatin – Nina
Sarah Maria Dickerson – Vanessa
Joshua Sherman – Benny
Rashuan Sibley – Sonny
Pilar Ortiz – Abuela Claudia
Martin Antonio Guerra – Kevin Rosario
Pamela Langton - Camila Rosario
Amanda William – Daniela
Natalie Coca – Carla
Michael Alonzo – Piragua Guy
Michael Anthony Sylvester – Graffiti Pete
Ensemble – Kevin Acosta, Austin Ray Beck, Jeremy Coca, Jordan Ghanbari, Benicka Janae Grant, Gina Gwozdz, Courtney Harris, Aigner Mathis, Darren McElroy, Addie Morales, Mark Quach, Rebekah Ruiz, Meagan Marie Stewart, Rashad Turley
Reviewed Performance: 5/17/2013
Reviewed by Joel Taylor, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
In The Heights is a story that takes place over the course of three days and involves a colorful cast of characters in the largely Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City.
The production is brought to life by the directing team of Adam Adolfo and Elise Lavalllee, Together they present a show full of good character work and interaction. The acting, incredible vocal talents and snappy choreography will bring you into the story with the energy in each of the scenes. The blocking is designed to be highly visual and make full use of the stage.
Adolfo and Lavallee use every available space on and off the stage to tell the story. There are several scenes where actors use the aisles to play scenes as well as for entrances and exits to the stage area. Whether stationary or moving across the stage, each actor commands the audience’s attention. This is both highly beneficial and at times challenging.
In several scenes, there are multiple actors standing in a corner, sitting on one of the balconies, moving across the stage, or using the house aisles. All of this is visually very stimulating, as each of the actors on stage is so engaging, but it can be a little confusing deciding which actors to focus on. You want to watch all of them all of the time, Yes, they are that engaging.
The choreography team of Elise Lavallee, Maegan Marie Stewart, and Michael Anthony Sylvester combine to create dance numbers that are always fun to watch. Whether it is street break dancing, Latin beats such as Salsa, or any of the many other dance and choreographed scenes throughout the production, the each actor performs every dance number with high energy and synchronicity and is fun to watch in company numbers as well as solos and duets.
Members of the dance ensemble that are particularly fun to watch include Michael Anthony Sylvester, Benicka Janae Grant and Jordan Ghanbari for their energy, unique dance moves and that extra oomph that goes into their work on stage. Even when they are changing the set pieces for different scenes, the ensemble is choreographed and delightfully fluid.
Sarahi Salazar’s set design, painted by Scenic Charge Artist Jessica Lavilla, is highly artistic and functional for the actors to use. The entire design makes it look much like a neighborhood in the barrio, with a city skyline painted on the upstage wall. The set includes a storefront for the coffee shop, an office area for Rosario’s Limo Service, and balconies that are used on both sides of the stage.
The lighting design by Aaron Sanchez is another element that adds such realism to this production. Multiple lighting colors are used to create various times of day such as dawn or dusk. Sanchez creates mood with his colors and uses blackouts and many spotlights, including some in the aisles, to keep the actors visible. This design works well most of the time. A few times spotlights were a little late focusing on an actor performing onstage, and when the spotlights hit the center aisles, it can be a bit painful for audience members to have the light in their eyes.
The costume design by Marcus Lopez is commendable. Each of the costumes is time period correct and mostly urban in design. From the urban clothing of the dance ensemble and street characters, the shirt, tie and suspenders worn by Benny, business shirt and ties worn by Kevin , the dresses with multiple designs worn by Daniela and the stylishly seductive dresses worn by the girls at the Bodago, all are well suited for each character. I overheard one member of the audience state he had seen this show in other venues but had not seen this production’s final scenes costume choice before. He was emphatic that he liked the change.
Matt Ransdell, Jr. seems to have channeled his inner Eminem while preparing for the role of Usnavi. His style of rapping, rhythm, movement and singing often reminds me of Eminem from about ten years ago. It is Randall’s skill that makes his Usnavi so unforgettable. Usnavi is a young Hispanic business owner in the barrio, trying to operate a business, and has a romantic interest in a young lady that he is too shy to approach. Ransdell’s acting choices for interacting with the other characters comes across as instinctual and natural, from his big brother approach with Sonny, his leadership role in the community, his often shy approach to the girl that he is in love with, and his most intricate and delicate relationship with Abuela Caludia. He handles the different layers of each relationship with ease. Usnavi’s special relationship with Abuela Claudia is handled tenderly and reverently by Randall. His final song is almost guaranteed to bring a tear to your eyes.
Sarah Dickerson as Vanessa is visually stunning and her singing is very good. However, many of Dickerson’s acting choices lack adequate depth for maximum audience enjoyment. In most of her scenes she plays the character well but not enough to make her character truly unforgettable. Whether it is in scenes with the ladies in the salon or with Usnavi on the street, she shows limited ranges of frustration, irritation and flirtation. In the Bodago scene, Dickerson’s dancing is good but the passion is limited. The few exceptions, such as the champagne scene with Usnavi in which they playfully flirt with each other, show skill and talent that demonstrate that both the actress and the character have depth.
Lorens Portalatin’s portrayal of Nina presents a very believable young lady who is confused about whether to escape the barrio and head to college or retreat back to the safety of what she knows well. Portalatin brings the enthusiasm and mannerisms of a typical college student. Her interaction with her father is poignant and brings to mind the special bonds that most fathers and daughters share. Her scenes with Benny range from the humorous, in the office scene where Benny and Nina sing “Benny’s Dispatch”, to the sexiness of the scene with Benny as they interact on the balcony. I enjoyed watching Portalatin’s transformation of Nina from a confused college student to a mature young lady determined to succeed.
Joshua Sherman, as Benny, is a multi talented actor with good acting and singing skills. Sherman plays the frustration Benny feels as he constantly tries to win both his boss’s approval and the attention and approval of Nina. Sherman shows a broad range of emotions that are both believable and genuine with his character. His singing and dancing skills are strong and his songs and scenes with Nina show humor and romance.
Rashuan Sibley portrays a Sonny who is sometimes a goofball, sometimes immature, deceptively responsible and always charming. Sibley is able to skillfully bring a Sonny that is an effective sidekick to Usnavi.
Pilar Ortiz, who portrays Abuela Claudia, is simply amazing. When she first walks on stage, the audience sees a woman who has experienced much in the world yet maintains a cheery attitude and is supportive of her whole family. And the neighborhood is her whole family. She is everyone’s grandmother and we believe it! Her every movement and mannerism will make you believe that she is the one who will make sure your birthdays and graduations are remembered, will be there to put the bandage on the knee and tell you that everything will be alright, yet puts everyone else’s needs above hers. When Ortiz sings, it is pleasure to hear such a strong and passionate voice from someone you might not readily expect it from.
Martin Antonio Guerra portrays Kevin Rosario, father of Nina, husband to Camila and co-owner of Rosario’s Limo Service with her. Guerra presents a man who is largely stoic and seemingly uncaring until situations begin to affect his family. Guerra handles these transitions well and shows the frustrations of someone trying to give his family a better life in the song “Useless”. He is very believable as the father who will do anything to help and protect his family.
Pamela Langton as Camila Rosario began her performance uneasily. She stumbled over a few lines which may have affected her confidence on stage. However, she quickly overcame that stumble and came back confidently as the strong-willed mother who is passionately protective of her family. She is particularly strong in her song “Enough”, becoming the peacemaker between Nina and Kevin
When I am watching a performance, every once in a while there is an actor or actress who takes a character to heights and levels I did not expect. This production has many such performers. One of the wonderfully unexpected treats is Amanda Williams. She plays Daniela, the owner or a salon in the barrio. From the moment Daniela enters and rolls her eyes, and the body language she uses while interacting with other characters, the audience is enthralled. Williams assumes the complete character, from her dialect, her mannerisms and her costuming. When she sings, the strength and quality will amaze you as she puts so much personality into both her character and her songs. As she, Carla, Vanessa and Nina sing “No Mi Diga”, the humor in the delivery adds to the poignancy of the meaning. Williams presents a Daniela who is sometimes over the top with her actions but always believable and fun to watch.
Another surprising find is Michael Alonzo as the Piragua Guy. Alonzo takes a walk-on part and turns it into someone who is a funny, solid character, in my opinion, and judging by several comments that I overheard from other members of the audience. Alonzo has one of the purist singing voices on the stage.
Visually, and from the times that I could hear her, Natalie Coca presents an entertaining Carla, who is the sidekick to Daniela. Where Daniela is over the top, Coca presents a character that is much more playfully subdued. Unfortunately, I was not always able to hear her words, and therefore could not fully appreciate this character.
Michael Anthony Sylvester, as Graffiti Pete, is another example of a truly good performer that can take a seemingly minor role and make it one of the audience’s favorites. Where Alonzo does this with his voice, Sylvester uses his acting and dancing skills. Each time Sylvester is onstage, the energy level goes up. His characteristics as Graffiti Pete are artistic and flow from one meaningful movement to the next.
In the Heights is an ambitious undertaking for even theatres with plenty of time, money and space. This show depends on highly-skilled dancers, singers, actors, musicians and designers who can bring it to life.
By using every available space in the building, a set design that matches and exceeds many I have seen in theatres of more resources, costuming that had people working overtime and a very talented and gifted cast, Artes de la Rosa presents a musical that will have you wanting to stand in the aisles to sing and dance with the cast as the show opens and then shed a few tears with the rest of us when this emotional roller coaster comes to the end of the ride.
A person sitting next to me shared that he had seen this show on Broadway, yet it did not affect him on an emotional level as this one did. Artes de la Rosa beautifully and successfully pulls it off.
Rose Marine Theater
1440 North Main St., Fort Worth, TX 76164
Runs through June 9th
Friday–Saturday at 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $18.00
For info & to purchase tixs, go to www.artesdelarosa.org or call the box office at 1-817-624-8333.