SUPERBLY-ETCHED PERFORMANCES FUEL MILWAUKEE REP’S BRILLIANT “IN THE HEIGHTS”

REVIEWED BY: MATTHEW PERTA
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The Milwaukee Repertory Theater kicks off its 65th anniversary season in spectacular fashion with an explosive, emotion-charged production of the Tony Award-winning In The Heights by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.You could feel the anticipation in the air opening night right before curtain time, and judging by the audience’s reaction, no one went home disappointed after witnessing exceptional theater overflowing with electrifying passion.

Credit goes to director May Adrales for eliciting such superbly-etched, powerful performances from a first-rate cast. It was obvious director and actors poured their hearts out to bring to life this tale of the American Dream told musically through the eyes of a Latino community because they think so highly of Miranda as both songwriter and storyteller.

In The Heights takes us into the community of Washington Heights in New York City during a hot summer in July.  It is here that we meet a cast of characters of Latino descent who want to pursue big dreams but still want to keep hold of traditions that make Washington Heights their home away from their native home – something that’s impossible given the changes happening all around them. This delicate balance is key to the plot of In The Heights, told through multiple musical styles that include Rap and Hip-Hop, traditional musical sounds, Latin rhythms such as Salsa, Merengue and Samba, and Soul and Rhythm and Blues.  

The Rep captures the brilliance of Lin-Manuel Miranda and rises to new heights in this high-stepping, fast-moving production.  Credit goes to Music Director Dan Kazemi, Musical Supervisor John Tanner, Associate Music Director Eugenio Vargas and their musicians for enhancing the plot with their sizzling musical support.  The musicians earned a well-deserved round of applause from the audience at the end of the opening night performance. 

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Ryan Alvarado, who was part of the first Broadway national tour of Hamilton, scores with his spirited performance as Usnavi, owner of the local bodega who longs to return to his home in the Dominican Republic; Sophia Macias wins with her sensitive turn as Nina, a college student who is seen as a local hero because she has achieved big things outside the Heights; Karmine Alers as the tough-as-nails Camila and Tony Chiroldes as the stubborn Kevin, co-owners of a car service, excel as Nina’s proud parents; Yassmin Alers is brilliant in the character role of Abuela Claudia, matriarch of the community who others look up to; David Kaverman perfects the role of Benny, a driver for Kevin’s business who one day hopes to own his own car service; Stephanie Gomerez is touching as Vanessa, a beauty salon worker who yearns to escape the Heights and her alcoholic mother; Henry Gainza gives a charming performance as Piragua Guy, who sells shaved ice off the streets of the Heights.  
And then there’s Lillian Castillo as Daniela, the sassy, savvy owner of her own beauty salon who cannot meet rent hikes imposed on her business.  Castillo steals the show with her hilarious comic timing.  In other cast notes, Sophia Macias is a resident of Chicago who has performed with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. And Tony Chiroldes was part of Heights’ original Broadway cast.
 
Innovative choreography by William Carlos Angulo and some superbly-acted scenes wrought with raw emotion make the Rep’s production of In The Heights an unforgettable experience.
 
In The Heights runs through Oct. 28 in The Rep’s Quadracci Powerhouse, located at 108 E. Wells in downtown Milwaukee.  For tickets visit www.MilwaukeeRep.com or call (414) 224-9490.