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March 13, 2018 > Impressive vocals carry vibrant ?Heights?

Impressive vocals carry vibrant ?Heights?

By Julie Grabowski

Before the incredible boom of ?Hamilton,? Lin-Manuel Miranda envisioned ?In the Heights,? a story of family and community set in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York.

Bodega owner Usnavi is part of a tight-knit community where ?everybody?s got a job, everybody?s got a dream.? The Rosarios are immensely proud of their daughter Nina who is a student at Stanford. They have run a car service for 20 years to support her. But under the pressures of work and school, Nina has dropped out and is unsure of her way. Daniela is moving her salon to the Bronx because of ever-increasing rent, while Vanessa is desperate to get a down payment on a new apartment. Benny hopes to one day open his own car service through his experience with the Rosarios, and Usnavi, though bound by history and love for them all, dreams of moving to the Dominica Republic to get back to his roots.

The sale of a $96,000 lottery ticket shifts dreams into high gear as everyone considers what possibilities it could bring. With the neighborhood facing unavoidable change and each of their lives at a turning point, its residents must find the best way of moving forward and keeping their hearts together.

With music and lyrics by Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the musical opened on Broadway in 2008 and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won four, including Best Musical and Best Original Score. ?In the Heights? also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album and was nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

It?s an exciting show to bring to the Tri-Cities, and Stage 1 Theatre carries it off with great spirit and aplomb. Director Scott Maraj has assembled a wonderful collection of actors with outstanding voices that powerfully carry the heart and humanity of the show.

Rajiv Vijayakumar is a likable Usnavi who handles the rhythm and flow of the hip-hop lyrics with a comfortable ease. His dance moves are also pretty entertaining when he lets loose in ?The Club.?

The vocal wows start once Alycia Adame (Nina) opens her mouth and continue the rest of the evening. Adame?s talent and confidence make a strong, endearing Nina, with ?Alabanza? and the moving ?Everything I Know? among the show?s best. Her romantic pairing with Trent Torain is a natural fit and the two are delightful right out of the gate. Torain charms as nice guy Benny and delivers plenty of heart and soul, launching with a strong opener in ?Benny?s Dispatch.?

Kriselle Kelsey is the picture of attitude and assurance as Vanessa and is another vocal stunner. Patricia Pitpitan brings the sass as gossipy salon owner Daniela and injects color and zest to all her scenes, notably in ?Carnaval del Barrio? and with Jacquelyn Bolivar (Carla), Kelsey, and Adame as the girls dish in the fun and vibrant ?No Me Diga.?

Mary Gimeno is a warm and sweet Abuela Claudia and makes an impression with ?Paciencia y Fe,? proving her vocals can clearly keep pace with her younger counterparts.

Fiercely fun and charismatic, George Folau (Graffiti Pete) is an excellent treat; Mike Tran (Sonny) has plenty of humorous appeal and is dexterous with the rhymes; Mark Flores (Kevin) and Tamarin Ythier (Camila) are a solid and natural parental unit, and Ythier is wonderful getting her say in ?Enough.?

?Piragua? is a highlight of the night due to the glorious vocals of Rocky James Concepcion (Piragua Guy). He gets a bit more shine time in ?Carnaval del Barrio? and a reprise of ?Piragua? in Act 2, but after hearing that voice one can?t help but wish for more.

Maraj has created an engaging and dynamic production from every angle. While the soundboard crash in Act 1 made hearing some of the actors difficult, it didn?t diminish the vibrancy and heart of the show and the cast never missed a step.

The lively music soars thanks to musical director Matthew Bourne and vocal director Janet Holmes. Set design by Mike Sickels, with an incredible background bridge by Fred Alim, costumes by Tamara Cooper, lighting by Christopher Booras (who delivers nice fireworks effects in ?Blackout?), and choreography by Gary Ferguson weave together to create a colorful, harmonious world that is absolutely one to visit.

In the Heights
Saturday, Mar 10 ? Sunday, Mar 25
8:00 p.m., Sundays at 2:30 p.m.
Newark Memorial High School
39375 Cedar Blvd, Newark
(510) 791-0287
Tickets: $15 ? $28

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