Archikulture Digest

In The Heights

In The Heights

Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes.

Directed by Paul Castaneda

Musical Direction by John Cantù

Starring Freddy Ruiz, Matthew Roman, and Ana Bateman

Greater Orlando Actors Theatre and Baggy Pants Theater

Presented at the Lowndes Shakespeare Theater, Orlando FL</strong>

The classic American success story thrusts the immigrant into a new land where they overcoming new challenges, learn new ways and find financial and emotional empowerment. But not everyone rises to the top; and while these denizens of Washington Heights can see the big bridges and tall buildings they remain stuck in low rent bodegas and running debt ridden small businesses. And they can’t even get laid. Shop owner Usnavi (Ruiz) hangs on, dealing with shoplifters, graffiti “Artists” and an assistant Sonny (tonight by Hector Sanchez) who has his own dreams and negotiates for free soda instead of a raise. Across the way Rosario’s Limo Service is run by the unlikely named Kevin (Michael Acevedo) and his wife Camellia (Leesa Castaneda). They sent their daughter Nina (Bateman) off to Stanford but the scholarship isn’t enough and her multiple jobs have forced her to drop out. This sets up romance and cultural clashes and a when a wining lottery ticket drops into this little community, everything is thrown in a whirl.

Ruiz mixes rap with Broadway quality vocals; his best material comes in the ensemble numbers (“In the Heights”, “96,000”) and in his duets with Vanessa (tonight played by Sonia Roman). While he’s notionally the lead and narrative voice, he’s sexually awkward and needs his friends to push him into the land of lovey dovey. The more successful romance lies between Nina and Benny (Matthew Roman). He’s American and has trouble understanding the Spanish dialects; Nina helps him out and here we build the inevitable comparison with West Side story: Move your kids to a new county, and they are likely to ditch the old ways and marry an exotic Irishman or Pole. Gentle Abuela (Alina Alcantara) is the McGuffin here: she gets the lucky lottery ticket and agonizes over it in “Paciencia y Fé”. Winning the lottery sounds great, but if you’re not used to dealing with money it can cause more trouble than you would expect. Here it seems to help proving that old adage: You never know. Colorful locals populate the stage; I loved Graffiti Pete (Erick Ariel Sureda); his excellent break dancing skills and modest graffiti art made him a charmer while Jon Perez as the Piragua Guy filled the set transitions with humor and wit. He, too, fights an immigrant’s battle, eventually triumphing over the the evil Tastee Freeze Man.

With a stunning set by Tom Mangieri and musical direction from the versatile an in-demand Juan Cantú, the only real flaw here was the sound. While this is a big space with a big crowd, the speakers were rock concert loud and badly distorted the sound, especially in the first act. By the second act they had improved to Just To Loud, but they still were just to loud. Better audio levels would give these skilled singers a better showcase for their talent. Come for the acting, cheer for the singing, but bring some ear plugs or a couple of cigarette filters.

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