NCT’s home-grown production of In the Heights runs Oct. 16-21 (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Ever since Hamilton became a huge hit, no one can stop talking about Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind it. However, before that show, he wrote the music and lyrics to In the Heights, which takes an in-depth look at three important days in the lives of those living within a small, mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York City.
North Carolina Theatre chose this opportune moment to bring this story to life, under the skilled direction of Michael Balderrama, and the production proves that Miranda had a definite gift for storytelling and for creating authentic characters long before he soared to great fame.
The show begins with an energized opening number that introduces the characters, as well as the neighborhood itself, which is just as much of a living, breathing thing. Adam Koch’s set design is incredibly detailed, using every inch of space to create the three businesses- a car service, bodega, and salon- that make up the setting of the story and the apartments above them.
After the opening, the audience soon meets Nina (Cristina Sastre), a young girl who has gone off to college far away and become the pride and joy of the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the financial demands have become too much, and she has tough news to tell her parents and extended neighborhood family: she has lost her scholarship.
Of course, the power of this play is that it’s not just Nina’s story that gets told here. There is also the story of her parents, Rosario (Danny Bolero) and Camila (Carly Prentis Jones), who will do anything it takes to get their daughter back on track. Then, there’s Benny (Nick Sanchez), an “honorary Latino” who works dispatch for Nina’s father and is dealing with his own dreams, as well as his struggle to truly fit in with the family he so admires.
Running parallel to their lives, there’s Vanessa (Melanie Sierra), who needs help escaping her troubled family and making a fresh start. She is the love interest of the show’s main focus, Usnavi (Andres Quintero), who runs the neighborhood bodega, takes care of Abuela Claudia (Nicole Polama Sarro), and deals with his young, admiring sidekick, Sonny (Reed Lorenzo Shannon).
All of their stories intersect and play off of one another beautifully as the characters struggle to realize their true dreams in Miranda’s moving script. And, Balderamma keeps them all moving (literally) with his phenomenal choreography, which is often so energetic that it leads to joyous laughter from the audience.
The North Carolina Theatre‘s Oct. 16-21 presentation of In the Heights stars Carly Prentis Jones (left) as Camila, Cristina Sastre as Nina, and Danny Bolero as Kevin (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
While there are plenty of laughs throughout the story as a whole, the main thing that stands out is how incredibly genuine and believable each character is, thanks to Miranda’s strong writing and incredible performances and casting all around.
Sastre’s Nina and Sierra’s Vanessa both have incredible vocal range that helps each of their songs to shine. Bolero also excels in his role as the hard-on-himself, self-made Kevin Rosario. He gives a particularly effective rendition of “Inútil (Useless),” a song in which he expresses great disdain at not being able to fully help those he loves the most.
Likewise, Sanchez makes for a perfect Benny and shares wonderful chemistry with Sastre, making their interactions some of the highlights of the show. And, speaking of great chemistry, Quintero’s Usnavi plays perfectly with both Sarro’s Abuela character and Shannon’s endearing Sonny.
Even the minor characters, like David Guzman’s Graffiti Pete and Michael Schimmele’s hilarious “Piragua Guy” add depth and realness to this story.
Of course, no one beats the lead character of Usnavi, whom Quintero portrays with so much gentleness and warmth that it’s impossible not to root for his character. In fact, as the show goes on, it’s impossible not to root for all of these characters and not to see the connection that they have- that we all have- to one another.
Andres Quintero stars as Usnavi (photo by Curtis Brown Photography)
Featuring amazing lighting effects, beautiful and super-catchy songs, and characters that stay with you long after the curtains close, this performance is a must-see that is sure to touch viewers’ hearts and take up residence there.
This reviewer couldn't resist the chance to take a photo with North Carolina Theatre's own Usnavi
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