Review by Danny Gaisin
The locale is the upper West Side (168th – 190th) but it certainly ain’t the Upper West Side where one would find CCNU; Columbia, the Lincoln Center and Columbus Circle. Nope, thees Hites [sic] is the brown ghetto of New York where Latino immigrants have settled. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s recent off-Broadway success became a mainstream blockbuster and DANCAP once again has grabbed its tour’s starting position. The plot covers three meaningful days in the community, and especially in the lives of its denizens. Failures, inapt decisions; financial difficulties and personal relationships are all brought to the fore and depicted in song and especially dance. Think of “West Side Story”; Avenue ‘Q’; “A Chorus Line”; ‘Abie’s Irish Rose’ & any episode of ‘The Millionaire’ and one would have Miranda & story-line writer Quiara Hudes’basic recipe.
The set oozes with the atmosphere and ambiance of the ‘hood, although the background drop of the George Washington bridge looks so much like the Brooklyn that I kept wondering if either had been moved since my Manhattan sojourn a decade ago! Designer Anna Louizos attention to even the smallest of details makes one assume she resided there while attending NYU. Director Michael Balderrama has only tweaked the original focus of Tony® nominee -Thomas Kail’s original concept. His pace is furious, the action and flow dovetail smoothly and with a certain verve that is intrinsic to a Latin temperament. Paul Tazewell’s costumes are striking yet ring appropriate.
The cast are all ‘A- Team’ quality. Their ‘rap’ recitations iterate the stereotypes of the locale but also of the challenges that every wave of resettlement faces. The amazing dance interpretations choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler who won the ‘08 Tony® for ‘In The Heights’ has been superbly emulated by dance captains Cameron Burke & Greer Gisy. There are a number of stand-out chorus pieces that are intricate and absolutely fascinating to watch.
Each individual character seems to bear resemblance to one or more of our own forbearers. Sonny, the assistant in the bodega is played & danced by Robert Ramirez whose acrobatic abilities boggle the imagination. He’s like a Cirque de Soleil performer without the ropes or swings. A standout both as singer; dancer & actor is Presilah Nuńez whose Vanessa is dynamite. The chemistry between her and Perry Young’s Usnavi, as well as with her cohorts in the salon & with Virginia Cavaliere’s Nina is categorically convincing. She also vocally outshines
Cavaliere whose solos oftimes grate. The owner of the beauty parlour is portrayed by Tauren Hagans whose ‘Tell me something I don’t know’ (no me diga) number is a showstopper. The opening night audience found favor with the matriarchal Grandma Claudia (Christina Aranda)’s “Paciencia”, but to this listener; it was a little too long and way too shrill.
The special effects: – fireworks display; spotlight emphasis and dimensional recreation all are major contributors to the overall effect of the performance. Orchestral background does not overpower and Kurt Crowley’s conducting is faultless. “IN THE HEIGHTS” will be on-stage at the Toronto Centre for the Arts in North York until Feb. 19th. Want a taste of musical Broadway and a feel of upper Manhattan; come see and enjoy this Dancap offering.