In The Heights
Breakthrough Theater of Winter Park
by Carl F. Gauze
Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Direction by Angela Cotto
Choreography by Jhalon Thomas
Starring Jonathan Barreto, Gemalltz Porrata, Mark Prosper, and Isabel Bemal
If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere, but its still a struggle. Usnavi (Barreto) runs a small bodega in Washington Heights, and his buddy Benny (Prosper) works with a taxi company and learns the ropes about routing cars. They struggle against crime, loan payments and the New York summer heat, and everyone they know is in the same boat or worse. Vanessa (Porrata) caught a partial scholarship to topflight west coast school but dropped out because she still needed three fast food jobs just to eat, and who has time for homework? Then we meet her Claudia (Cotto) who lucks out on the lotto. There’s lots of good places to put that money: the car company, the bodega, even college. What to do? When a power outage puts the already overheated citizens in an even more miserable situation, it looks like the entire city would melt. Can anyone survive? Never mind prosper?
The new Breakthrough space is larger than the old location by the railroad tracks, and Producer Wade Hair does like big cast productions, but this show sets a new density record for his shows. While I never came close to tripping an actor, I was in the second row and there were some close calls. What does happen with this mega-cast is no one questions the singing. Songs are delivered with life and energy and even with good air conditioning you feel the sweat and burning side walks. Unavi Barreto carries much of the weight here, and a goodly slice of urban entrepreneurship. Equipment breaks, taggers lust after his security fence, and everyone wants a discount because they know him, or they’re broke. Or both. The entire cast prays for the lottery gods to smile and while Abuela’s $96k sounds like a lot, there are taxes and a dozen hands held out. Younger brother Benny changes the most as he stops trying to bluff his way to success, and by curtian he’s bucked down to do actual work. It’s a heartwarming story of success and acceptance in the harsh pressure cooker of New York. And as a famous Sicilian immigrant sang “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere.”
On a technical note, the new Breakthrough may be a bit farther out, but is has good signage, lots of parking, more bathrooms, and good sound and sight lines. It can be tough to spot, and if you overshoot it turning around is not all that easy. But the trip is worth it. Artistic Director Hair signed up for a challenging season full of large cast, high tech shows. There’s no fly loft or trap, but I have faith he’ll pull off something impressive this season.