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“In the Heights” warms the Milwaukee Theatre

By - May 5th, 2012 01:29 pm
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IN THE HEIGHTS North American Tour; North American Tour Cast (c) John Daughtry, 2011

In The Heights — fun, energetic, exciting, relentless, upbeat, uplifting — opened Friday evening at the Milwaukee Theatre.

The show’s story line certainly doesn’t rival the likes of Les Miserables or Gypsy, but it doesn’t need to. In the Heights is a feel-good, block party of a Broadway musical, and we don’t have enough of them. The world is dark enough; Friday night, I didn’t want the party to end, and I wasn’t alone in that.

The show ran at full throttle from the opening rap number.  This show portrays life among Dominican-Americans in the Washington Heights neighborhood in New York.  Perry Young is perfectly cast as Usnavi, who struggles to keep his family bodega open after the death of his parents. Young, powerful and in command of his character from beginning to end, Young turns ultra shy in his courting of the stunning Vanessa (Presilah Nunez).  Vanessa works at the beauty salon next door to Usnavi’s bodega. She longs for the day she’ll have her dream apartment in New York’s West Side.

Nina (Virginia Cavaliere) has come home from Stanford University, to tell her parents (Benjamin Perez and Celina Clarich Polanco) that she’s lost her scholarship and that she’s falling for Benny (Kyle Carter). Her Father objects — he doesn’t like Benny’s ethnicity and inability to speak Spanish. But as is often the case, the older generation speaks wisely and cooler heads to prevail.  The wise head belongs to Abuela Claudia, played passionately by Christina Aranda. Her performance of ‘Paciencia y Fe’ (“Patience and Faith”) pulled at every heartstring.

And so continues the story of In The Heights and the ups and downs of everyday life, including the little matter of a $96,000 winning lottery ticket sold by the bodega. Life is rich in complex for the scuffling residents of Washington Heights.  Most of us live it day to day. It’s just that In The Heights, they handle the tough situations much more responsibly and with much more vitality.

As a side note, I am always amazed at how often touring shows have two or three ensemble actors/dancers who hold back an otherwise stellar cast.  Given the abundance of talent out there, and there is no reason to cast members who aren’t top notch.  In The Heights had two or three dancers not up to the standard of the rest of the ensemble, which was a pity.  On the other hand, two very strong ensemble dancers earned a shout-out: Roddy Kennedy, as Graffiti Pete, was a pure joy to watch (hat malfunction aside), and Sasha Hollinger’s dancing commanded special attention.

The short run at the Milwaukee Theatre, 500 W. Kilbourn Ave., ends Saturday, May 5, with performances at 2 and 8 p.m. The box office number is 800 745-3000 or you can order tickets online.

Categories: Theater

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