Just a short A-train ride from midtown Manhattan is a not so sleepy neighborhood inhabited by close-knit Latino residents struggling through ordinary complications most of us can identify with: love, loss, and financial hardship. Of course, the residents of Washington Heights manage their daily struggles with enough exuberance and enthusiasm to light up the 4th of July night sky.
Washington Heights, a barrio in the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, is its own, and dare I say, main character of In the Heights, beautifully presented here by Set Designer Patrick Klein. Rudy Fuentas is nothing short of terrific as Usnavi, the owner of the local bodega, and central resident bringing all the inhabitants together. It would be a disservice to not mention Fuentas does all of this while singing and speaking mostly in rhyme.
One of the unique attributes about In the Heights is that this truly is an ensemble piece, allowing everyone their moment to shine. Two stand out’s in this talented ensemble are Jia Taylor and Alexa Ortega. Taylor portrays Usnavi’s love interest and salon worker, Vanessa, set on moving out of the barrio to a downtown apartment. Ortega plays Nina Rosario, the first of her family to attend college, which coincidentally, is Stanford University. Both women have beautiful voices and own the stage in their respective roles. Another stand out is Brian Conway as Sonny. Sonny doesn't have any solos, but that doesn't prevent Conway from practically stealing nearly every scene he’s in with his charm and charisma.
Alex Perez’ direction and Robyn Tribuzi’s choreography give the production not one, but two stand out high points, both of which, in my opinion trump that of the national tour. The first being the Act I finale, “Blackout”, I had goose bumps I was enjoying the number so much. The second being the show stopper “Carnaval Del Barrio” in Act II, led by Daniela (Vanessa Alvarez). I had high expectations for this number because it’s my favorite number in the show. The inhabitants of Washington Heights are at low point following a 4th of July blackout and looting; the salon, the dispatch and the bodega are all shutting their doors for good as the intense summer heat drains the group of their last bit of hope and energy . At this point, to paraphrase, Daniela steps in and proclaims, “Since when are Latin’s afraid of heat?” and the audience is treated to an energetic song and dance number as the residents muster up the energy for one last celebration together.
I wish I could mention every single person by name, but then I’d be writing the production credits. I do have to add one final shout out - every time Mark Alabanza came out pushing his Piragua Cart singing “piragua” I wanted to grab $2.25 out of my pocket and get my own shaved ice treat!
This isn't my first time seeing In The Heights, but this production presented by Palo Alto Players is my preferred barrio to visit! My advice dear readers: grab your A-train ticket, sit back and enjoy the uptown ride. Don't forget to wear your dancing shoes!
In the Heights is playing at the Lucie Stern Theater in Palo Alto, present by Palo Alto Players, now through September 29th. Tickets range from $17 to $45 and are available online at: http://www.paplayers.org
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