It has been only a few years since the renovated Paramount Theatre in Aurora began its Broadway Musical Series, and each production that they do continues to prove that live theater is exciting to watch and the Paramount does it right!. Under the direction of Jim Corti who has proven that the need for the suburbs is just as strong as in the city. There are many of us, who until they come to Aurora, are under the impression that this is just a western suburb-it is NOT!. Aurora is in fact, the second largest city in the State of Illinois and the Paramount Theatre is a perfect place for Broadway Musicals.
Their current production, which kicks off the new season, is winner of four Tony Awards in 2008- “In The Heights” written Quiara Alegria Hudes (book) and Lin-Manuel Miranda( music and lyrics) that is based on an idea of Manuel-Miranda, this is the story of the people who live in an area of New York City, known as The Heights, where Latino families live and work as well as play together. The Dominicans and the Puerto Ricans who live on the block ( 183rd street) all know each other and shop where they live, but it is a time of change and those who have spent their lives together will soon see that some of the plans and dreams they have in their heads may change as will the neighborhood.
This is a highly energetic musical that fills the stage with Latin inspired music and dance ( Choreographed by Katie Spelman) along with some great “rap”. The set is the block and looks very close to the original set we saw when the road company came into town ( Anna Louizos) depicting older buildings with fire escapes ( what we call decks today) and the three main businesses, a beauty salon, the Bodego and a driver/cab service. These three businesses play an important role in the telling of the relationship between the people who reside in Washington Heights ( the formal name).
Under the skillful direction of Rachel Rockwell, who takes each production she is involved with to new heights, and a local sace of players who are as solid and energetic as the touring company we saw in Chicago, this is a resounding “picture” of a “familia” that is found in all o fthe Latino areas in our country. many of those who were in today’s audience know that this life exists ( Aurora has a decent sized Hispanic population) but these viewers will go home to their subdivisions or condos and never think about it again. In this story, our families and individuals are faced with changes that effect their lives and those around them- while it s a fun filled story filled iwth music, it is a story about hopes and dreams, some broken and the traditions that are about to come to an end as well.
The cast is strong, led by Nick Demeris as Usnavi ( there is a chilling story about his name) who owns a bodega, where all the residents get their coffee and deli items.Others are Abuela ( the always great Paula Scrofano) , Ricardo Gutierrez ( always reliable) who owns the car service and only wants his daughter Nina ( deftly handled by Christina Nieves) to have greater success than he has had. She is a student in College in California and is the prized possession of the block but she comes home and announces that her grades slipped, her scholarship is gone and she is not going back. Her dad, Kevin, who started his business from nothing but a dream, has an offer to buy his business and decides that in order to live his daughter’s dream, he will take it.
The story , as I said earlier , is about change- change between the family and the “familia”. The story takes place on July 4th holiday, a steamy July 4th and when the power goes off ( blackout), many things change for what appears to be the worse, but as it turns out, some for the better. Usnavi has the “hots” for beautician Vanessa ( the lovely. leggy and sexyCaitlainne Rose Gurren) and Nina , as it turns out has storng feelings for one of her father’s employees, Benny ( a strong performance by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis, who is not Latino, which causes some other friction ( Brown vs Black) and brings us to another subject. As you can see, this is a story that covers it all- hopes, dreams, overcoming objections, survival, traditions ( old and new) and of most importance Love- not only romantic love, but love of others and the respect that goes with it.
While the songs are for the most part not ones you hum on the way out of the theater, you will find yourself tapping your foot or clapping your hands as you witness two hours and twenty minutes of pure magic on the stage. The musical direction (Tom Vendafreddo) and orchestra are small in numbers (15) but rival any 40 piece orchestra I have ever heard. As I said earlier, this is a magical two hours and worth the trip to Aurora. Due to the acceptance of the theater and its shows, this year the productions will all have an additional week, so you have a little more time to see”In The Heights” which will continue through October 6th with performances as follows:
Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 1 and 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $36.90-$49.90 ( a great value) and if you subscribe you can pay even less. There is street parking at the theater located at 23 E. Galena in downtown Aurora and tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 630-896-6666 or online at www.ParamountAurora.com where you can also learn about local dining spots and other productions that will come in to the theater this season. It is an amazing venue
To learn what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and then click at “In The Heights”. Due to the fact that The Paramount is more than 25 miles from Downtown Chicago, the productions they do will not qualify for Jeff Awards- let us hope that one day the Jeff Committee will change that rule as this is a Jeff Award quality production