Theater review: ‘In the Heights’ in the ’burbs
Special to the Daily
If you go ...
What: “In the Heights.”
Where: Littleton Town Hall, 2450 W. Main, Littleton.
When: Through Oct. 8.
More information: Visit http://www.townhallartscenter.org.
“Hamilton” is still a few months from landing in Denver (if you can score tickets), but if you’d like to get a strong sense of what the fuss is all about, then check out “In the Heights,” now playing at Littleton’s Town Hall Arts Center through Sunday, Oct. 8. With music and lyrics by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, “In the Heights” features much of his signature hip-hop lyrics, set against the music and background of a largely Hispanic neighborhood in New York City.
It’s the hottest day of the summer and shop owner Usnavi kicks off the action with a big number about life in Washington Heights, an area of Manhattan both integral to and separated from the larger city. In the Heights, it’s a daily struggle for Usnavi and his neighbors just to pay the bills and get by.
And while many of the characters spend a good deal of their time pining for another life in another place, the street on which they live is as much a part of who they are as their ethnic identity. There, they find solace in their family, neighbors and friends, and if nothing else, “In the Heights” is a celebration of human connection and the joys and sorrows that come from being part of a community.
Once again, under the capable direction of Nick Sugar (who also choreographed), Town Hall hits a home run with a well put-together musical that’s bursting with energy and featuring a large cast that uses every inch of Town Hall’s wide but shallow stage. Sugar’s choreography is spot-on, with big numbers that no doubt required a great deal of rehearsal to get right. The talented cast is up to the challenge, and at a recent performance the appreciative crowd rewarded them with a big standing ovation.
Meet the Cast
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This show won four Tony Awards in 2008, including Best Musical, and it’s easy to see why. At its heart a story about fitting in, “In the Heights” explores multiple stories ranging from romance to family values, ethnic identity, poverty, race, urban life and plenty more.
When an extended blackout throws the city into chaos, the tensions between the characters come to a head, and Usnavi finds himself at the center of it all, a gentle soul who’s not looking to lead but who’s thrust, it seems, into everyone else’s complicated lives.
Usnavi is played beautifully by Jose David Reynoza, who captures the right balance of amiable frustration as he negotiates the curveballs coming from all sides. As Nina, Rose Van Dyne is another young, rising star with a big voice and a strong stage presence who manages to juggle several of her own plot lines with believability and aplomb.
This entire cast is pretty remarkable, comprised of talented newcomers still in college and veterans such as George Zamarripa. As “The Piragua Guy,” Zamarripa does a charming turn trying to beat out the Mister Softee truck with his own flavored ices while echoing the heartache and hope of life in the Heights.
As the neighborhood’s abuela, Margie Lamb conveys the story of an immigrant who found her perfect place in the world and serves as an inspiration for the entire neighborhood. And it’s hard not to love the hair salon girls, played with gossipy hilarity by Sarah Harmon, Chelley Canales and Destiny Walsh.
“In the Heights” plays through Oct. 8, and it’s well worth the trip to one of the Denver area’s best small theaters to see it.