The hits just keep on coming for the beautiful brand-new, 2,800-seat, state-of-the-art Durham Performing Arts Center in the American Tobacco District in downtown Durham, NC. The latest box-office bonanza is the must-see musical In the Heights, which won the 2008 Tony Awards® for Best Musical, Book, and Score.
A high-octane national tour, with exuberant musical staging by director Thomas Kail and choreographer by Andy Blankenbuehler and zesty accompaniment by music supervisor Alex Lacamoire and cohorts, hits on all cylinders as it celebrates the Latino immigrant experience in the Washington Heights section of New York City. This vivacious touring version of In the Heights — produced by Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman Willis, Sander Jacobs, Robyn Goodman/Walt Grossman, Peter Fine, and Sonny Everett/Mike Skipper — also boasts first-rate production values, with a magnificent multilevel set by Anna Louizos, flamboyant costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Howell Binkley, and sound by Acme Sound Partners.
But it is the charismatic characterizations of the vivacious cast that make In the Heights a musical to remember. Joseph Morales as ambitious but shy bodega owner Usnavi carries a torch as big as Lady Liberty’s for Lexi Lawson as Vanessa, the cute-as-a-bunny girl who works in the beauty salon next-door. Meanwhile, Usnavi struggles to keep a tight rein on Chris Chatman as his equally ambitious but lazy younger cousin Sonny, whose slipshod work at the bodega frequently earns the ire of Usnavi.
Across the street, the neighborhood’s Girl Most Likely to Succeed, Genny Lis Padilla as Nina Rosario, has returned to the Heights, with a terrible secret: she has flunked out of college and lost her scholarship, while trying to work her way through school. Nina keeps her proud father and mother, Rosario’s Car Service proprietors Danny Bolero and Rayanne Gonzales (subbing for Natalie Toro) as Kevin and Camila Rosario, in the dark. But she doesn’t hide her growing attraction to Nicholas Christopher as Benny, who works as a dispatcher for her parents’ business.
Other major characters include Elise Santora as barrio matriarch “Abuela” Claudia (“abuela” is Spanish for “grandmother”); April Ortiz as sassy beauty-salon owner Daniela; Ana Nogueira as her assistant Carla; Jose-Luis Lopez as Sonny’s friend the elusive barrio “tagger” (graffiti artist) Graffiti Pete; and David Baida as the Piragua Guy (“Piragüero”), who owns a small piragua stand on wheels and sells Puerto Rican frozen treats that compete with Mister Softee products.
Personable performances by Joseph Morales and Lexi Lawson as Usnavi and Vanessa and Genny Lis Padilla and Nicholas Christopher as Nina and Benny make their rocky romances compelling. The tensions between Morales as Usnavi and Chris Chatman as Sonny and between Padilla as Nina and Danny Bolero and Rayanne Gonzales as her overprotective and increasingly concerned parents Kevin and Camila are also vividly sketched.
Elise Santora adds a poignant portrait of Abuela Claudia, Nicholas Christopher gives a fervent performance as Benny, and April Ortiz and Ana Nogueira provide considerable comic relief as Daniela and Carla.
All in all, In the Heights lives up to its reputation. This brilliantly staged, passionately performed, and expressively sung Broadway musical takes the Durham Performing Arts Center audience higher and higher as its vivid tale of immigrant life in Washington Heights unfolds.
SECOND OPINION: Feb. 24th Durham, NC Independent Weekly review by Byron Woods (who awarded the show 5 of 5 stars): http://www.indyweek.com/artery/archives/2011/02/24/q-wheres-the-future-of-the-american-musical-a-in-the-heights; Feb. 17th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview and Feb. 24th review, both by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/11456080/article-Coming-full-circle?instance=main_article and http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/11569412/article-‘In-the-Heights’-is-the-pinnacle-of-musicals?instance=main_article, respectively (Note: You must register first to read this article); and Feb. 20th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Lawrence Toppman: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/20/999185/joyous-heights-carries-us-away.html and Feb. 18th preview by Lawrence Toppman: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/02/18/994326/la-historia-of-many.html. (Note: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Feb. 22nd Triangle Theater Review preview and Feb. 24th preview, both by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2011/02/in-the-heights-won-four-2008-tony-awards®-including-best-musical-book-and-score/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents IN THE HEIGHTS at 1 and 6:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
DPAC Box Office: 919/680-ARTS (2787), firstname.lastname@example.org, or http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=54.
Ticketmaster: 800/745-3000, 919/834-4000, or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1089137.
GROUP RATES (15+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=22. SHOW: http://www.dpacnc.com/default.asp?dpac=19&objId=273.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.intheheightsthemusical.com/.
The Musical: http://www.intheheightsthemusical.com/ (official web page), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_heights (Wikipedia), http://www.lortel.org/LLA_archive/index.cfm?search_by=show&id=4879 (Internet Off-Broadway Database), and http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?ID=465744 (Internet Broadway Database).
The Tour: http://www.intheheightsthemusical.com/tour-news.html (official web page).
The Documentary (In the Heights: Chasing Broadway Dreams): http://www.pbs.org/wnet/gperf/episodes/in-the-heights-chasing-broadway-dreams/creating-and-staging-the-musical/779/ (Public Broadcasting System).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review,a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Reviewpreviews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.