Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
In the Heights
Also see Rebecca's recent review of Meet Murasaki Shikibu Followed by Book Signing, and Other Things
The story revolves around the lives of a tight-knit Latin community in the vibrant and diverse Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. Usnavi dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic and finding love, but he stays focused on running the family bodega with his teenage cousin Sonny. Vanessa, a salon worker, yearns to escape to a better neighborhood downtown. Nina, a bright college student, struggles with the weight of her family's expectations and her growing affection for childhood friend Benny. That affection is complicated by the fact that Benny works for her parents' taxi company. Meanwhile, Abuela Claudia watches over everyone in the barrio. As their stories intertwine with those of their friends and neighbors, the characters face issues of gentrification, cultural identity, and the pursuit of happiness.
Ryan Reyes takes on the lead roll of Usnavi (originated by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself) with confidence and style. Believably brilliant and heartrendingly anxious, Daisy Marie Lopez is an excellent Nina. Lopez shares a powerful dynamic with Danny Bolero and Tauren Hagans, who play her father Kevin and mother Camila. The trio is captivating, and Bolero's stunning rendition of Inútil is painfully resonant. Easygoing and upbeat, Solomon Parker III makes an effortlessly charismatic Benny. Luis-Pablo Garcia is delightfully exuberant at Usnavi's cousin Benny, but Jacquelin Lorraine Schofield absolutely brings down the house singing Paciencia y Fe as Abuela Claudia.
The choreography by Michael Anthony Sylvester is an exciting combination of Broadway and Latin styles, featuring enough the salsa basics, bachata body rolls, and cumbia steps to really bring the heat. The ensemble features artists from Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, and a multitude of ethnicities who all add their own flare to the celebratory musical numbers. Unfortunately, Jeannette Christensen's costume designs do not feel as vibrant or authentic as the choreography and cast. Benny's costume in particular seems awkward and looks legitimately uncomfortable.
An uplifting production of a phenomenal musical, this In the Heights is a solid kick-off to the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's Main Stage season. I highly recommend driving up to DeSales University and joining the celebration.
Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival's In the Heights runs through July 2, 2023, at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of DeSales University, Center Valley PA. For tickets and information, please visit pashakespeare.org, call 610-282-9455, or visit the PSF box office at the Labuda Center for the Performing Arts.