Milwaukee nights in Washington Heights

September 24, 2018

Lights up on the sensational production that brought Lin Manuel Miranda fame long before Hamilton: In the Heights. This modern musical dances through the everyday lives of those inhabiting Washington Heights. May Andrales's direction is vivacious and colorful, bringing the right balance of Broadway inspiration and original vision to the Milwaukee Rep's stage.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents In the Heights in the Quadracci Powerhouse from September 18 - October 28, 2018. Left to Right: Ryan Alvarado and company of In the Heights. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

 

In the Heights is a genuine ensemble piece. Usnavi, Abuela Claudia, Sonny, Graffiti Pete, Nina, Benny, Vanessa, Daniela, Kevin, Camila... This story would not run its course with even one of these pieces removed.

 

Dan Kazemi's vocal direction brings out each of the actors' strengths; Sophia Macías's powerhouse Nina pairs well with David Kaverman's smooth-toned Benny, and Stephanie Gomérez's Vanessa is the confident pop compliment to Ryan Alvarado's delightfully charismatic Usnavi.

 

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents In the Heights in the Quadracci Powerhouse from September 18- October 28, 2018. Left to Right: Stephanie Gomérez, Lillian Castillo, Sophia Macías and Alyssa V. Gomez. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

 

Soloists are equally notable - Tony Chiroldes pulls heart strings as Kevin in the showstopping "Inútil".  When "Carnaval Del Barrio" comes around and spirits are low, Lillian Castillo raises the roof with her pipes. Abuela Claudia is the thread that ties the whole neighborhood together, and Yassmin Alers bears her soul to audiences in "Paciencia y Fe". Truly, there is no one actor or actress who carries the show, but a collaboration of many talents woven together enforces the unbreakable strength of this production.

 

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents In the Heights in the Quadracci Powerhouse fromSeptember 18- October 28, 2018. Left to Right: Emily Madigan, Nicolas Garza, Alexander Gil Cruz, Courtney Arango, Ryan Alvarado, Eric A. Lewis, Rána Roman and Eddie Martin Morales. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

 

In a post-Hamilton craze, William Carlos Angulo's choreography draws clear inspiration from Blankenbuehler's work on the American musical. The movement retains the hip-hop stylings of the OBC In the Heights, but brings in new layers of physical storytelling. The ensemble embodies both the intention of the lyric and the literal meaning of the words. Dance is used as another language to tell this story. The results are stunning.

 

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents In the Heights in the Quadracci Powerhouse from September 18- October 28, 2018. Left to Right: Courtney Arango, Nicolas Garza, Lillian Castillo, Henry Gainza, UJ Mangune, Alyssa V. Gomez, Emily Madigan, Stephanie Gomérez and Eddie Martin Morales. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

 

Even as electricity is lost in the area and all sing "We are powerless," there is an undeniable sense of empowerment throughout this piece. The diversity in ethnicity and culture onstage is vibrant and true to the story Miranda conceived. Director May Andrales says, "[Miranda] was able to really take the heartbeat of a community and weave it throughout the musical. That kind of fusion of style and music... You will not be disappointed."

 

Whether the characters are itching to escape the barrio or finding what little can be done to improve it, these people are each on a journey to find home. The tale is told through the lens of human experience. To struggle for work, to work and still struggle. To love and lose love, to express what words cannot reach. To have a sense of community, culture, and connectedness. In the Heights presents all this and more, in a format that is accessible and enjoyable for all audiences. This company can be seen at the Rep through October 28th, after which it will continue a limited tour through Seattle and Cincinnati.

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