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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Back to the barrio, 'In the Heights' comes to Pittsburgh CLO

The lights are back up on Washington Heights as Lin-Manuel Miranda's first Broadway musical hit, In the Heights, takes the stage at the Benedum Center in Pittsburgh. If you never had the chance to experience the barrio on Broadway and are in need of a post-Hamilton fix, now is your chance. 
It is such a treat to watch Miranda's first successful show and to see some of the similarities between Heights and Hamilton (look at where he is, look at where he started). If you are a fan of Miranda's work, and who isn't, then this show is a MUST SEE. The musical brings Miranda's hip-hop signature style to the stage with a captivating story, high energy choreography, unforgettable songs, and catchy Latin rhythms. 

The casting for this production includes several familiar faces from the Pittsburgh theater scene and many seasoned performers on Broadway, including a few from the original cast. 

The story is set in a barrio (neighborhood) of Washington Heights in New York City. Usnavi runs a convenience store with his younger cousin, Sonny. Usnavi is played by Joshua Grosso, who is a 2016 graduate of Carnegie Mellon University and a 2012 Jimmy Award winner. Grosso keeps an impressive rap flow as a leading man. Sonny, the jokester of the barrio, is played by David Del Rio, who starred in the Broadway production of In the Heights. He brings the perfect expressions, sense of humor, and charisma to his role that keeps the audience laughing and captivated. 

Abuela Claudia, although not a blood relative, is the grandmother to the entire block. She, however, is an especially strong parental figure for Usnavi who lost both of his parents. Patricia Phillips is brilliant in this role. Her strong vocals during "Paciencia y Fe" and "Hundreds of Stories" were some of my favorite moments. 

The close-knit block is shocked and surprised when Nina Rosario returns home after dropping out of college at Stanford. Genny Lis Padilla stars as Nina and she is wonderful! I first saw Padilla in Broadway's On Your Feet, which she is currently taking a short break from for this role. Padilla was also a member of the first national tour of In the Heights. Her vocal range is strong and she has great chemistry with her love interest Benny, played by Marcus Paul James, who was also in the cast on Broadway. "When You're Home" has always been my favorite song from the show and Padilla nailed it. 

When Nina returns home, Benny is delighted, but her parents do not approve of her move which forces them to make some tough financial decisions. Rick Negron and Blanca Camacho, play Nina's parents, Kevin and Camila Rosario. Camacho was also in the original Broadway cast and Negron has a long list of Broadway credits. 

Benedum Center 
Meanwhile, Usnavi sells a winning lottery ticket at the bodega worth $96,000. Abuela Claudia, who has the winning ticket, ultimately changes the future and identity of the entire barrio, along with its residents, for years to come. 

Vanessa, who has a back-and-forth relationship with Usnavi, is played by Stephanie Klemons, who has a long history and friendship with Miranda himself. She is a Drama Desk Award winner, an original cast member of Hamilton, In the Heights, If/Then, choreographer, and the International Dance Supervisor for Hamilton. Basically she does it all with her multiple talents. Klemons is also the dance captain for this production, and she proves it with her moves on the dance floor. The dancing during "The Club" and "Blackout" is as hot as the summer heat. Vanessa dreams of leaving the neighborhood and moving downtown but is also falling in love with Usnavi. Klemons plays the perfect Vanessa with her powerful ballads, charm, and strong determination. 

Another highlight of show is during the "Carnaval del Barrio" number. April Ortiz plays Daniela and leads the entire neighborhood in a dance party that brings Caribbean beats, immigrant pride, and energy that continues to build throughout the song. Pittsburgh native, Billy Mason, also joins in on the celebration during his number as "Piragua Guy" and proves that he runs the town. 

The set is very simple but works perfectly with the storyline. All of the action takes place between Rosario's Car and Limousine Service, Usnavi's store, and Daniela's hair salon with the beautiful George Washington Bridge in the backdrop. The fire escape staircases are used in many numbers and quick, easy changes transform the block into a vibrant nightclub. 

It won't be long now until the show closes, so grab your tickets to see In the Heights, Miranda's original masterpiece. The Pittsburgh CLO production runs through Sunday, July 16. 

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