San Diego… iNo me diga!
By Alejandra Enciso Guzmán
After an intense month of rehearsals and five days of preview shows, In the Heights had its opening night on Sunday, August 4th at the Lyceum stage in Horton Plaza. The multiple award winning musical had its first resident production in the county, thanks to the partnership between San Diego REP and the San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts (SCPA). In the Heights is directed by Sam Woodhouse and choreographed by Javier Velasco. The play is based on the book by Quiara Alegría Hudes and conceived by Lin- Manuel Miranda.
In the Heights is set in the vibrant community of New York’s Washington Heights. It is a community with immigrants from all over Latin America who face the day to day decision whether to keep on with traditions or leave them behind in this new place. We are introduced to barrio businesses and their owners where this tension plays out. Usnavi owns the corner bodega where he sells coffee, newspapers and miscellaneous along with his bratty yet very good hearted cousin Sonny. The Rosarios run a taxi dispatch and Daniela operates a hair salon.
The show has several pleasant surprises. Jai Rodriguez, BRAVO host and RENT alumni, stars as Usnavi. He proves to be a perfect fit for this role and the demands that came with it– rapping and singing as well as acting. No stumbles, it all ran smoothly and he looked good too.
Susan Denaker as Abuela Claudia is another great surprise. She provides a tender portrayal of the barrio’s abuela as well as a powerful interpretation of ‘Paciencia y Fe,’ one of the key songs to the plot. Denaker is also part of several scenes that where resolved in a different manner than the Broadway production due to space limitations. Reflecting the Woodhouse and Velasco touch, some of those changes worked better, particularly in the interaction of both dancers and actors with the audience throughout the show. One particularly memorable moment came when singer/dancer Daechelle Hernandez crossed from the audience to the stage singing the introduction of the bolero ‘Siempre.’
Continuing with the ‘wonders’ category– Susanna Peredo Swap as Daniela. What a treat! Daniela is the savvy, churrigueresque beauty salon character. She embellishes her role with a great set of vocals.
Victor Chan is the piragua guy or piraguero. He sells piragua (crushed ice with flavoring) from a cart which was missing the distinctive bell or ring. Chan earns the audience’s applause with his vocal range and power.
In The Heights is an emotional roller coaster filled with laughs, tears and moments of reflection. Mauricio Mendoza and Roxanne Carrasco portray the Puerto Rican couple Kevin and Camila Rosario. They are parents to Nina, played by Chelsea Diggs-Smith. In the song ‘Inútil’ (Useless) Kevin feels lost when Nina drops out of Standford. But he also remembers how tough it was for him to venture out on his own, choosing not to follow in his dad’s or grandfather’s footsteps.
Camila Rosario elaborates on this theme, declaring in the song ‘Enough’ that “As long as you are alive, you are never on your own.” This song, while clearly directed toward her daughter Nina, also reveals Camila’s own internal struggles. Diggs-Smith, debuting for the REP with this production provided a very delicate representation of the youngest Rosario.
The dancing in the show is memorable. Danielle Mone Truitt, in her role of Vanessa, Usnavi’s love interest, adds a twist of R&B to her dance numbers. But her wardrobe–very short jumper– and position above the audience proved distracting. The choreography in the Broadway production was very demanding, specific and complicated, The San Diego Rep production is a more relaxed version. Spencer Smith, however, as Graffiti Pete really gave those dancing sneakers a run, especially in one salsa number in which he dances with two girls at the same time. Nice. Very nice. SCPA student Michael García did a very corky and cute Sonny, reminiscent of a really young Bruno Mars.
In the Heights is well worth seeing. It will run through August 25th at the Lyceum Stage. Tickets range $35-$62. Students $18. Discounts for seniors & military.
As part of the surrounding events for this show, Jai Rodriguez will be performing in Dirty Little Secrets, a set of ‘R’ rated stories, songs and dance on August 20th.… um, did it get hot in here?
For more information regarding times and other surrounding events. Please visit www.SDREP.ORG
Alejandra Enciso Guzmán is an arts consultant and reporter in both Tijuana and San Diego. @Riselah / @Riselaheng