‘In the Heights’ inspires with classic tale

Posted March 30, 2013


Not everyone can fall in love with Washington Heights, the neighborhood in Manhattan that serves as one of Harlem’s ethnic neighbors, because it manages to be both cliquey and kitschy.

In the HeightsBut, the Washington Heights that serves as the setting throughout the theatrical production, “In the Heights,” welcomes audiences into the Latin community with open arms.

The musical, which has been on Broadway since 2007, transports the audience to witness the joys and struggles of immigrants and first-generation Americans who are trying to live out the American Dream.

The production, originally a representation of the lives of creators Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes, easily attracts any member of an immigrant community.

From now through April 7, South Florida theatergoers will have the opportunity to sit down and witness the characters’ struggles as they fight to find their voices. But, despite the Actors’ Playhouse’s efforts to put together a play that is representative of the original Broadway production, the work falls a bit short and doesn’t quite measure up to its original counterpart.

Usnavi (Nick Duckart), named after a ship titled “U.S. Navy” his parents spotted in the New York City Harbor when they arrived in America, takes the lead in the play, and directs the intricate plot. He and his abuela, or grandmother, are co-owners of a bodega, or small grocery shop. He struggles to make ends meet and tells about his trials and triumphs through rap and salsa.

Usnavi’s dilemmas at love and romance are comically depicted; he spends a large portion of his time throughout the musical pining over his longtime crush Vanessa (Christie Padres).

In the meantime, Daniela (Elise Santora), the salon owner where Vanessa works, prepares to change locations of her business to the neighboring Bronx, where the rent is cheaper. Throughout the play, however, Daniela and Usnavi conveniently work next door to each other, making for interesting plot twists and allowing for exciting and entertaining music numbers and corresponding dances.

All of the citizens that live in Washington Heights struggle – they are immigrants trying to achieve their version of the American Dream. Still, Nina (Sarah Amengual) serves as the neighborhood’s beacon of hope.

Unexpected twists and turns throughout the musical, however, prove that even the most promising of youths have extreme moments of doubt. Nina reveals heartbreaking news to her parents, Kevin (Oscar Cheda) and Camila (Denise Sanchez) after returning from her first year at Stanford University.

While the several subplots may be difficult to follow for some, the cast unfortunately does a mediocre job of representing the Broadway show. Even though three cast members, like dancer Jose-Luis Lopez, were a part of the original Broadway show, the Coral Gables production cannot compare to its Manhattan counterpart. The two cannot compare and the cast in Coral Gables doesn’t do the Broadway edition of the show true justice.

Still, their enjoyable voices and talented dancing compensate the lackluster acting skills. Additionally, most of the cast hails from South Florida, which helps enhance the much-needed Latin appearance and accents needed to pull this play off successfully.

Similarly, the play’s plot tends is entertaining and heart-warming enough to distract the audience from the individual performances.

The music, representative tunes from the amalgamation of Latin cultures and families upon which the musical focuses, keeps the audience tapping its toes.

All of the songs, performed live by eight musicians, are catchy and powerful. The orchestra at the Actors’ Playhouse, directed by Manny Schvartzman, also conceals the mediocre acting job.

The plot, accompanied by the music and dancing, are all ingredients for an overall enjoyable show. And, the set, which mirrors the Broadway set and remains the same throughout the entire production, gives the audience a chance to witness a day in Washington Heights.

The explosive colors, dance moves and Latin music will surely not disappoint anyone looking for an inspirational story and classic tale of families seeking to reach their American Dream.

  • What: “In The Heights”
  • Where: Actors’ Playhouse, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables
  • When: 8 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays, and 2 p.m. Sundays through April 7
  • How Much: Ticket prices range from $28 to $44. For more information, call 305-444-9293 or visit http://www.actorsplayhouse.org.
  • Acting: 3/5 stars
  • Setting: 5/5 stars
  • Dance and choreography: 5/5 stars
  • Music and voice performance: 5/5 stars