CITY LIGHTS THEATRE BRINGS WASHINGTON HEIGHTS TO THEIR 2ND STREET STAGE WITH A SIZZLING CAST AND PRODUCTION
Washington Heights returns to San Jose to heat up the summer, this time at City Lights Theatre Company’s Production of IN THE HEIGHTS now extended through August 26th at the 2nd Street Stage. Director Jeffrey Bracco says “What a time in America to be doing In The Heights. The news is filled with videos of people in cages, images of children - last years hurricane - Puerto Rico still being kept in darkness, (this musical) is not just a celebration of family and pride, it's also about beating the odds”
This smaller production is smartly directed by Bracco who was able to bring a fresh new cast of 22 to this intimate performance directly to your seat. The production has a site specific theater feel as you are immersed in the street festival events as you enter the theatre. In the 90 degree San Jose heat its close to the same sizzling heat wave the two hour musical creates. The Tony winning Best Musical also won the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and a Grammy for Best Cast Album for writer creator Lin Manuel Miranda with a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes.
This is the 6th time I have seen ITH locally - So other than the wonderful street party in the parking lot and lobby the story is always marvelous to see it a fourth or fifth time. This past theatre season I was completely blown away by the San Jose State University production, and I am set to visit Washington Heights three more times - including the much anticipated Woodminster production in the Oakland Hills. My readers have read more reviews of ITH than they probably need to, so I will only write about the actors and creative team. I won’t mention much about this story.
Director Bracco adequately stages this large musical using every space in the City Lights blackbox to tell this story. He brings the company into the audience for the hit song “Carnaval del Barrio” that will have you jumping out of your seat in celebration. Music director Samuel Cisneros has some strong voices to work with and a tight three member band including Doug Forsyth and Gabe Perez. Both Bracco and Cisneros keep this Washington Heights charming and still powerful.
USNAVI is played by the accomplished Oklys Pimentel who returns for his third time performing the role that Lin-Manuel Miranda created. He brought audience to their feet at San Jose State University this past spring and grew up in the Dominican Republic so his heart and soul is in every performance. The bodega he runs is just as colorful as his past performances. He opens the show with the banner song “In The Heights” introducing the first rate 22 member cast.
The first scene immediately sets the tone for what is to come – the high energy dance numbers and rap is strong, plus the singing and salsa music seems to lift you from your seat. Pimentel brings his best rap skills and splendid voice giving Usnavi a more charming personality.
NINA ROSARIO is superbly played by the fabulous Cristina Hernandez, she sings the sweet song “Breathe” her voice shines as she shares the story of her first year in college. Her voice is soulful and clear in contrast to the hip-hop rap numbers that dominate the two and half hour story. Hernandez shines throughout the show during her many songs including with Reign as they sing “When The Sun Goes Down”.
In the role of CLAUDIA, the powerful Gloria Stanley steals this show as she lovingly plays Claudia, the matriarch of the neighborhood, she is convincing as the older woman who is Usnavi's surrogate abuela who raised him. Stanley’s wonderful feature song “Paciencia y Fe” brings one of the themes beautifully staged by Bracco. The relationship between Claudia and Usnavi, reflected in their duets are sweet, touching and believable, while later, in the second act Stanley’s “Hundreds of Stories” is grand with spirit and heart.
BENNY is played by the tall, hip Robbie Reign who sings “Benny Dispatch” with Hernandez and their onstage timing is ideal. Reign delivers as a singer/rapper and dancer, featured in the second act with the wonderful song “Sunrise”. His timing with Nina's angry father is well acted and it is an explosive scene.
NINA’S PARENTS are played by the fully realized Dave Leon and Marsha Dimalanta who are pros and handle their dramatic parts with ease. Leon has a solo “Inuti”; his voice is foolproof as is his passion as a hurt father, Kevin is deep. Dimalanta as Camila, who appeared in the SJSU cast, has a solid, strong voice in the family song “Enough” and commands the stage in “Siempre” with the company. At the San Jose Hammer stage Dimalanta appeared as Claudia.
SONNY is played by the triple threat talented Jomar Martinez who offers some wonderful comedic relief as Usnavi's cousin. Martinez is featured in the song “It Won’t Be Long Now” with Pimentel and the gifted Alycia Adame who plays Vanessa. Martinez also steals the stage in “96,000” and his perfect comic timing with Pimentel. Martinez is a local favorite on Bay Area stages and his past performance's prove his aspiring future.
VANESSA is played by the full force Alycia Adame. She soars in her duet with Pimentel “Champagne”. The two show some Heights magic on stage. Adame is also a expert dancer who proves her talent in “96,000” and “Club” with the company and class in choreographer’s Frankie Mendoza hip hop dance. Mendoza was also part of the SJSU cast playing Pete.
Salon owner and local gossip, DANIELLA is played by the dynamite Stephanie Baumann. Her delivery, timing, body language and strong Latina smarts are perfect. She is matched with the polished Chloe Angst who plays the ditzy shop assistant Carla. Angst completes the trio who works at the salon. The three including Adame and Baumann sing the hit song “No Me Diga”. Miranda features strong women roles with the swagger and energy to create these three wonderful characters.
The spirit of Washington Heights, GRAFFITI PETE, is played by the dazzling Phillip Jaco who opens the show with his beatbox and spray cans. The fool proof set is designed by CLT resident production manager Ron Gasparienetti, but the eye catching Graffiti art that greets you in the looby and on the set was created by Paulino Deleal.
PIRAGUA GUY is played by the flawless local favorite Nick Rodrigues who sings with gusto and affection in the delightful song “Piragua”. Rodrigues has a wonderful voice that filled the City Lights theatre with his sweet ice drinks. The night I was there, during his performance the mic was malfunctioning, but the clever Rodrigues’ strong tenor voice needed no amplification whatsoever.
The detailed, two level set was designed by the creative Gasparinetti and magically creates the Washington Heights neighborhood. The ice cart featured in “Piragua” is fully working and designed by prop master Miranda Whipple, a favorite prop including the record player that plays the family favorite song. The hip choreography of Mendoza keeps the show moving. “96,000” and ‘Carnaval del Barrio” are sizzling dance numbers that brought the sold out City Lights audience to cheers.
The ensemble features many performers from the SJSU production, including the exceptional Jordan Celestino, Will Corkery, Tony Wooldridge, Erika Andrade, Choice Plasencia, with the lively Sarah Bylsma, Amy Palagi, Alaine Flandez, Amanda Le Nguyen, and Jon Nowakowski. The “Blackout” ends the first act and is highlighted by Kyle Langdon's fireworks projections and Mary Baronitis elegant light design. Assistant director Ivette Deltoro brings the best out of this cast in the tearful number “Alabanza” staged in candlelight also designed by the lighting director Baronitis and her assistant Langdon.
Melissa Sanchez’ costumes are very colorful with a mix of millennial look, and the slick bright dresses and heels on some of the women. Shanchez’ kept Claudia in a warm look always in her morning apron and Sonny’s and Usnavi’s colorful shirts that matched the mood of the show.
But I was disappointed that Nina and Vanessa on stage look was much the same (I could not tell them apart), both actors have played both women in the past, but Shanchez missed the mark dressing the two female young leads. George Psarra’s sound design is put to a rigorous test as the company’s dance moves are not easy for body mics but many of the mics were not working and Pimentel’s audio level was uneven. Stage managers Charnnee Young and Allison Hazebrouck kept the busy 22 member cast moving on and off stage, as Bracco’s direction included many of the ensemble on stage throughout the story. Other tech staff include Miranda Carvalho, Tyler Morales, Alex Yasuda, Joseph Hiddle, Rob Asche, Sean Kramer.
This production is a colorful energetic version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s marvelous work. IN THE HEIGHTS themes are human connections, the power of neighborhoods, universal hopes and dreams that make for bold statements. It proves a place that becomes home and how a culture’s strength are positive ways to understand and live the American Dream. This production is about sold out but an extra weekend was just added with performances through August 26th. There are a few other ITH’s this season to catch, but in the meantime, come visit the authentic taco trucks and festive party that greets you as you walk in. CLTC truly puts the community in theatre and Miranda would be pleased. This musical concludes their 37th season, and they open this fall’s 38th season with the sharp comedy GOD OF CARNAGE and round out the season in 2019 with CABARET. But in the meantime, fill your summer theatre season “Paciencia y Fe” as this IN THE HEIGHTS is a must see.
City Lights Theatre Presents
In the Heights
Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Jeffrey Bracco
Musical director Samuel Cisneros
Choreography by Frankie Mendoza
Executive producers Nancy B. Coleman & Paul M. Resch
Extended through Aug. 26
Thurs.-Sat. at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m., and 8 p.m.
City Lights Stage
529 S 2nd Street
San Jose Ca. 95113
Running time: 2.5 hours, 15 minutes, one intermission
Photos by Taylor Saunders
Broadway vet and original cast member of In The Heights Broadway the original Sonny, Robin De Jesus shouts out to the San Jose cast of ITH and mentions CLTC Sonny, Jomar Martinez. Robin is currently in The Boys in the Band on Broadway - congrats Jomar and the cast of City Lights Theater Company LISTEN IN >>
CITY LIGHTS ANNONCES NEW 2018 - 2019 Season
The 2018-19 season starts this fall with the sharp comedy God of Carnage, and continues with the family humor of Making God Laugh and the heartbreaking, hopeful drama Mothers and Sons. Next, City Lights presents an innovative new production of Eurydice, incorporating actors as onstage American Sign Language interpreters. Silent Sky, based on the true story of a turn-of-the-century female astronomer; and the original 1966 version of the iconic musical Cabaret round out the season.