Rhyme, rap, salsa and struggle mix with the talent of Baldwin Wallace University Music Theatre students in “In the Heights,” now playing at Beck Center for the Arts through February 28, 2016 on the Mackey Main Stage.
With book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and the creative genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda on music and lyrics, this Victoria Bussert-directed show brings the hopes of one neighborhood (Washington Heights in NYC) onto the stage with true passion.
Change is in the air as we meet the residents. Usnavi (Ellis C. Dawson III) is a store owner who struggles with his crush on the beautiful Vanessa (Christiana Perrault), and she just wants to move to a better neighborhood. Goofball cousin Sonny (Michael Canada) helps Usnavi run the store. Nina (Livvy Marcus) is home from her first semester at Stanford with some surprising news for her parents. Abuela Claudia (Jessie Cope Miller) is busy watching out for everyone while remembering her childhood in Cuba. Benny (Malik Victorian) is a dreamer who wants to one day open his own business instead of working for Nina’s parents.
As each of the characters hustles through the day, it’s clear that the pressures of life weigh on each one differently. The pull of tradition and family mingle with the hope of doing something new. The harshness of reality tugs at the dreams of the young and old alike.
Love is kindled. Family is tested. Duty is called into question. Doubt is cast. Throw in a blackout and the world goes mad!
Bussert’s direction uses the multi-leveled set well, spreading out the large cast to create a real community feel. The casting is spot on, as the performers truly live in and enjoy their roles.
Dawson is a solid choice as Usnavi, as his demeanor and rap style are both strong and engaging. His scenes with Abuela Claudia are especially touching.
Perrault is a dazzling choice for the character of Vanessa. Her height and presence match her wonderful voice to make her a force to be reckoned with.
Marcus nails the character of Nina with an intelligent spunk and good-girl grace. One of the most emotional songs in the show, “Everything I Know,” is gorgeously brought to life by her pure voice and honest delivery.
There are many great moments that are well-presented in this production. Some developed nuggets to note are the layered ups and downs between Nina and her parents, the fun sassiness of Carla and Daniela, the calm and grandmotherly presence of Abuela Claudio, as well as the surprise financial turns and personal discoveries of all of the residents.
Excellent musical surprises include the peppy “Piragua” sequences (Matt Lynn), and Camila’s (Kesley Baehrens) rage-induced “Enough.”
The cast is supported by the capable leadership of musical director David Pepin. Choreographed by Gregory Daniels, the movement is energetic and crisp, but could use even more of the ethnic flavor of the mainly Dominican-American neighborhood and culture.
The design staff includes scenic designer Jordan Janota, lighting designer Jeff Herrmann, costume designer Esther Haberlen (hats off to her on the awesome assortment of platform shoes!), and sound designer David Gotwald.
“In the Heights” runs now through February 28 at the Beck Center for the Arts in Lakewood. For more details and tickets, visit www.beckcenter.org or call 216-521-2540.