Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires
Everyone involved with this presentation is working at a very high level, but Sean Harris' direction of the show is particularly effective. The stage at Playhouse on Park is surrounded on three sides and the production has been staged so that all of the sections of the audience can see the actions and story clearly. What's more, choreographer Darlene Zoller works so terrifically with Sean Harris, it is difficult to see where his direction ends and her dances begin. This In the Heights is one production that truly feels all of a piece.
The same goes triple for the sensational cast. In the leading role of Usnavi, Niko Touros is just wonderful, singing all of his numbers excitingly, as well as managing to really stand out throughout the show. He is surrounded by a fabulous group of actors, who make the most of all the dynamite songs Lin-Manuel Miranda has written for the show. As Nina, Analise Rios is extremely strong, as well as quite touching, and she displays an excellent singing voice. She especially shines in the songs "When You're Home" and the second act solo, "Everything I Know."
Matching her is Sophia Introna as Vanessa, whom Usnavi has his sights on from the beginning. Introna especially sizzles in her songs with Touros' Usnavi, including "It Won't Be Long Now" and "Champagne," near the end of the show. This actress is also quite striking in the spicy all-female production number, "No Me Diga." In other leading roles, Nick Palazzo is just right as Sonny, Usnavi's assistant at his store, and Leyland Patrick does fine work as Benny, Nina's hopeful love interest, especially in their next to closing duet, "When the Sun Goes Down."
As Abuela Claudia, Amy Jo Phillips is warm and moving, singing in a rich voice her anthem, "Paciencia Y Fe." Even the Piragua Guy, played ideally by the funny Willie Marte, gets his moment center stage. However, if there is a real showstopper in the cast, it is Stephanie Pope as Nina's mother, who delivers her powerful second number, "Enough," in which she finally silences everyone around her and gets to say her piece. Pope has been magnificent since such early 1990s Broadway shows as Jelly's Last Jam, and she has only grown in talent and stature.
Director Sean Harris works perfectly with the work of his team of designers, including Emily Nichols' evocative scenic design, the colorful costumes by Kate Bunce, and Aaron Hochheiser's stunning lighting design. Expert music director Melanie Guerin works great with her scintillating off-stage band, who help bring the show and every number to full-blown life.
With Hamilton a sell-out phenomenon on Broadway, it is marvelous to watch this earlier Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, in which Miranda reveals just how talented a composer he is, giving effective material to all the characters in the musical. And, when you have a production as dynamic as this one at Playhouse on Park, In the Heights takes off into the stratosphere.
In the Heights, through July 29, 2018, at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford CT. For tickets, please visit www.playhouseonpark.org or call the box office at 860-523-5900.