by Lorie Lewis Ham
In the Heights opened at the Selma Arts Center this past weekend, presented by the Raisin’ Cain Players, and this show is amazing.
In the Heights is a 2008 Tony Award winning musical set in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood. The story takes place over three days in the heat of summer, with a cast of mainly Latin American characters. It is a community on the brink of change and full of hopes, dreams, and tradition.
Usnavi runs the corner bodega where everyone gets their coffee, and he dreams of someday visiting the country where he was born, and of dating the girl next door. Vanessa works at the beauty salon next door and dreams of leaving the neighborhood for something better. Nina has been away at Stanford, but found that it wasn’t what she expected and is back home with difficult news for her parents. Benny is a young man who grew up in this neighborhood and feels a part of the culture, even though he’s white. He works for Nina’s father’s limo service, and he too has dreams, and must convince Nina’s father, Kevin, that he is good enough for her. The glue that holds the neighborhood together is Abuela Claudia who is like a grandma to everyone. The story revolves around these characters, and others, as they all come to understand what is really important in life and the importance of home and community. There’s also the question of a winning lottery ticket, and in the song “96,000” they all share what they would do with the money.
This is an amazing story full of life, love, energy, heart, and hope, told with excellent acting and wonderful music. The characters are real and down to earth, and the music is contemporary with a touch of Latin flavor. A lot of the music has the same rock musical feel as the musical Rent. Usnavi mostly raps, which I thought I wouldn’t like in a musical, but it fits perfectly and Damen Pardo who plays Usnavi, does an amazing job. Usnavi is also the narrator of the story. I honestly can’t pick a favorite song from this show because they are all great, though I will say that I especially liked “When You’re Home,” performed by Nina, Benny and company, and Nina’s first song “Breathe.” The dance numbers are also fun to watch and well executed.
Cady Mejias plays Nina, and Mitchell Lam Hau plays Benny, and they both have wonderful and powerful voices, as does Marisha Sanchez who plays Vanessa. Both couples also have great chemistry. Michael Flores as Usnavi’s cousin Sonny, brings a lot of the fun and comedy to the show, along with the two girls next door who run the beauty salon where Vanessa works (played by Mady Broach and Maria Monreal). Erik Valencia (a regular at RCTC in Reedley) plays Nina’s father, and it was fun to see him in something very different.
Every actor in this show does an awesome job of bringing these characters to life and making you feel their struggles. This is one of the best shows I’ve seen in the Valley this year with a very strong and talented cast. The set is beyond amazing (they were able to use the set from a touring company’s production). You leave the theatre feeling entertained, having had a great time, and also uplifted by the hope and energy of the show. This is Dominic Griljalva’s directorial debut and he has hit it out of the park!
DO NOT MISS THIS SHOW–it will be on stage through July 25 at the Selma Arts Center, 1935 High Street. Selma. Tickets can be purchased at the door or online at tickettomato.com.
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