‘In the Heights’ a nonstop, electrifying musical at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire
Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire has kicked off the 2024 season with an exuberant production of “In the Heights.” With music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda (world-renowned for “Hamilton”) and book by Pulitzer Prize-winning Quiara Alegría Hudes, James Vásquez directs a truly amazing cast in a nonstop, electrifying musical.
Musical Director Ryan T. Nelson, along with conductor Noah Landis, definitely engages us from the opening number “In the Heights” (which cleverly introduces us to New York City’s Washington Heights residents) to the moving, standing-ovation finale. The Latin American pulse is constant, thanks to the expertly flawless nine-piece orchestra’s sizzling, hip-hop, rap, jazz, pop, salsa and merengue.
Choreographer William Carlos Angulo has the 22-member cast buoyantly executing moves I cannot believe the human body capable of, let alone looking so flawlessly beautiful on the theater-in-the-round stage designed by Arnel Sancianco (I particularly liked the fire escape and overhead shop signs); Harri Horsley’s costumes are colorful and befitting the hot July days of 2008, with appealing wig designs by Ray Sanchez. Jesse Klug’s lighting, Michael Daly’s sound and Sally Zack’s props complement the production.
Set over the course of three days, largely in the Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan, “In the Heights” is a two-act musical that focuses on many themes: family, culture, dreams of a better life and hope. There are touching moments (the long applause after Sonny announces Usnavi can “dance like a drunk Chita Rivera” is especially meaningful following the announcement of Rivera’s death last week), as well as comedic moments. The entire ensemble is composed of “triple threats” who all can act, sing and dance.
It is difficult to shine the light on a few standouts, when everyone in that cast is a standout. Recognition has to be given to the magnificent supporting cast: Andres J. Deleon, Wesley J. Barnes, Carisa Gonzalez, Justin Payton Nelson, Isa Ramirez, Alix Rhode, Tommy Rivera-Vega, Kiana Rodriguez, Sebastian Treviño, Cristina Benninghoff Uribe, Arik Vega and Phillip Wood.
Joseph Morales has played the part of Usnavi before (wait till you hear the origin of Usnavi!), and he is a natural. He also has played Hamilton, and his casting is understandable. Morales has chemistry with everyone on that stage; he truly is believable as the backbone of the neighborhood, working the corner store with his cousin, Sonny. He is an intoxicating, quixotic performer; I appreciated how he made the audience taste memories with his abuela (grandmother), lovingly and endearingly played by Crissy Guerrero.
The romantic interests are there; for Usnavi, it’s Vanessa. For Sonny (“she was my babysitter first”) and Benny, it’s Nina. Both characters are portrayed by passionate women who have stunning vocal ranges. Addie Morales is Nina, every inch the sweet, innocent radiant daughter home from Stanford University. Paola V. Hernández is Vanessa, perhaps at the opposite end with a large chip on her shoulder and jaded, but equally radiant. Both actresses are highly emotive.
Jordan Arredondo is Sonny, the loyal cousin who provides much of the production’s comic relief. Arredondo is a talent you can’t help but fall in love with, and who also serves as the show’s fight captain. Symbolizing change happening to the neighborhood, Lillian Castillo is Daniela, the beauty shop owner, a casualty of the Heights, who is moving to the Bronx. Castillo is another audience favorite, who steals the show with some of her quips and plans. (“I mess up your highlights at a discount price.”) Daniela’s sidekick Carla is wonderfully and faithfully played by Michelle Lauto. Their friendship is credible and delightful.
Nina’s protective parents are portrayed by Rudy Martinez and Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel. They own Rosario’s, a limo car business, and are willing to make sacrifices for their daughter’s success. Gonzalez-Cadel has a show-stopping number, “Enough,” and Martinez delivers a powerful and emotive “Inutil.”
Yasir Muhammad is Benny, who works for Rosario. He is the non-Latino of the neighborhood, friend to all, and clearly as an actor shows us the passion he has for Nina, and the courage he has to deal with rejection because of his culture. Muhammad is a compelling actor.
“In the Heights,” a precursor to Miranda’s “Hamilton,” is thoroughly entertaining and extremely enjoyable. Positive energy abounds; it’s a blockbuster of compelling joy. There’s a reason it was nominated for 13 Tonys and won four: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestration. Not surprisingly, “In the Heights” also was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama.
The Marriott audience’s enthusiastic standing ovation was lengthy, full of cheers and most deserved. Go be uplifted!