Highly Recommended ***** While Chicago is anticipating the arrival of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton”, they might just want to consider viewing his earlier work, the wonderful “In The Heights” (which won Tony Awards for “Best Musical” and “Best Original Score”). Little Porchlight Music Theatre ( and I mean little as in intimate space) is whetting theater audiences appetites for the new show by bringing us the show that truly had an impact on Musical Theater!.
“In The Heights” tells us the story of a tight-knit community of New York. A neighborhood called Washington Heights, filled with Latinos from many Spanish- speaking countries, who know their history and despite living in America still feel they are Dominican’s and Puerto -Ricans etc, etc. Their lives are still filled with the hopes that brought their parents (or even grandparents) here, as they watch their neighborhood change with the times and they fight desperately to keep their traditions alive. This is a unique piece as the songs are a major part of propelling the story-line and do not stand alone. Yes, that means that you will not walk out of the theater humming, but I can tell you this- you will walk out of the theater being entertained and with a huge smile on your face and a warm feeling in your heart!
Under the swift direction of Brenda Didier who also co-choreographed with Christopher Carter, this is an amazingly high energetic cast. Dancers who make a small stage seem larger and voices that truly are magnificent. In fact, the voices we heard in this production are even better than the previous touring show that BIC brought into town. Great casting by Porchlight!
If you are a Porchlight follower, you know that they use Stage 773, so the theater is set up with a stage surrounded on three sides by audience members. 144 seats, so one can see just how intimate a space it is. Greg Pinsoneault’s set utilizes other ares of the theater, allowing the stage to be the focal point for the main locations of the story, the Bodega owned and operated by our hero Usnavi De La Vega (marvelously played by Jack DeCeasare). Along with his cousin Sonny (deftly handled by Frankie Leo Bennett) they operate the coffee stand where the neighbors daily pick up their treats, their news and their gossip, along with their Lottery tickets ( a major part of the story by the way).
The area is changing and some of the businesses are leaving because of the newer high rents. One business, the Limo Service (which they have worked into a revolving set) is run by husband and wife, Kevin (Jordan DeBose) and his wife Camilia (lovingly played by Keely Vasquez). They have a daughter, Nina ( Lucia Godinez is outstanding in this role and her voice is like that of an angel), who has just returned from attending the university. There is another story here, and since this is a neighborhood filled with stories, I do not want to disclose that many.
Her parents have a non-Hispanic employee, Benny ( well played by Stephen Allen) who has hopes of growing into the business and possibly into the Rosario familia. Another story! Usnavi also has a love interest. Her name is Vanessa (played to perfection by Michelle Lauto, who also has a voice that is beautiful). The other major character is Abuela Claudia ( warmly brought to life by Isabel Quintero). She is the woman who has raised both Usnavi and Sonny and for the Heights is the person who keeps it all together.
The ensemble is an important part of a musical such as this. Porchlight is one of our musical theater companies that seems to always find raw talent and mold them into the best Chicago has to offer. Hats off to the ensemble of this sterling production: Missy Aguilar, Leah Davis, Stan DeCwikiel, Jr. (who looks the part of the vendor with the cart-just visit 26th street on a Sunday afternoon in the summer), Kristopher Knighton, Michelle Lauto, Cisco Lopez, Yando Lopez, Elena Romanowski (quite the dancer), Travis Austin Wright and Demi Zaino. I hope I got you all because you deserve to be praised. Bravo!
The tech people did a great job as well.Denise Karczewski (lighting), Robert Hornbostel (sound) Kate Setzer Kamphausen (costumes) and Mealah Heidenreich (props)- great work! Your parts of the recipe are the finishing touches on a solid production that will be one to remember for those lucky enough to do so. Musical direction by Diana Lawrence and her five musicians (Danny Howard (percussion) Cesar Romero (guitars), Drew Hansen ( trumpet), Anthony Rodriguez (reeds) and Jake Saleh (bass) truly were masterful.
“In The Heights” will continue at Stage 773 located at 1225 West Belmont thru October 23rd with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 4 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2 p.m.
added shows: October 6th 1:30 p.m.
There is no 7:30 p.m. show on October 6th and no 4 p.m. performance on Saturday, September 17th
Tickets range from $43- $51 and are available at the box office, by calling 773-327-5252 or at www.PorchlightMusicTheatre.org.
Open seating- Running time 2 hours and thirty minutes with one intermission. This is one that it is worth changing your schedule for.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “In The Heights”