EMAV Review: "In the Heights" pulses to a joyful new beat at Super Summer Theatre

★★★☆☆ - Satisfying

In the Heights pulses to a joyful new beat, and its youthfulness has creative and cultural rewards. If you have any rhythm in your heart you’ll enjoy this Satisfying 3-Star production while picnicking under the evening sky at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park.

Before his recent musical theatre sensation Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Composer and Lyricist) and Ms. Quiara Alegría Hudes (Librettist) introduced Broadway to In the Heights... it's story centers on a variety of characters living in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, on the northern tip of Manhattan. The community is a mix of ethnicities from Puerto Rico, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and the Caribbean, but they all share the commonality of struggling with the American dream.

At the center of the show is Usnavi, a bodega owner who looks after Abuela Claudia (the aging Cuban lady next door), pines for the gorgeous Vanessa (working in the neighboring beauty salon) and dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, Nina, a childhood friend of Usnavi’s, has returned to the neighborhood from her first year at college with surprising news for her parents, who have spent their life savings on building a better life for their daughter. Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighborhood get a dose of what it means to be home.

This high-energy show features lovable characters, and a contemporary Latin-flavored score – with varied beats of Latin music, the impressive rhymes of rap, and narrative hip-hop --but it’s also very sweet and sentimental, wearing its heart on its sleeve.

One of the most polished and exuberant musicals when it opened on Broadway, owing much to the rhythm of three generations of music (salsa, soul and hip-hop), one would expect the beat of these characters to have the cast soaring and the audience up on its feet. While that was certainly true of the leading and supporting actors who were well-cast, confident in their respective roles and delivered their musical numbers with poise, the general ensemble never quite matched their spirited presentations.

Even the choreography never quite rose to the sizzling expectations set by the score and orchestrations, tending more toward strolling, gesturing and posing than the traditionally fast-paced Latin dances such as the salsa and merengue.

In contrast, the entire ensemble was strong and well-balanced in their choral numbers, thanks to vocal director Lisa Fairweather. Of special note were the performances of Austin Champion (Usnavi), Jamar Thompson (Benny), Kyara Isis Williams (Nina), Kelly Burrows (Camila), Demyia Browning (Abuela Claudia), and Ace Daniels (“Piragua Guy”).

Casting and general production worked very well under the Direction of Keith Dotson. Joaquin Alyala (Set Designer) successfully transported us to the small, flexible and intimate quarters of a NYC barrio where the acting company was appropriately clothed in costumes designed by Tracy Vietmeier-Foote. Orchestrations were often far too loud to hear and understand the soloists’ lyrics and the lighting design, by Ellen Bone, worked well for special effects throughout (fireworks and “NYC blackout”) but missed the most intimate moment upstage center of Benny’s and Nina’s first kiss.

Enjoy spending an evening under the stars in this vibrant, tight-knit neighborhood at the top of Manhattan as this talented company explores the joys, heartbreaks and bonds of a Latino community struggling to redefine home.

In the Heights: Presented by Super Summer Theatre and FirstStep Productions, continues nightly through July 29th at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 Hwy. 159, Blue Diamond, NV 89004

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