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'In The Heights' is exciting for all ages


Last updated 9/24/2017 at Noon

The cast of "In the Heights"

Elizabeth Youngman-Westphal

Special to the Village News

A smash hit celebrates the end of the 37th summer season at the Moonlight Amphitheatre. The much anticipated "In The Heights" conceived by the celebrated author of "Hamilton", Lin-Manuel Miranda, did not disappoint. Wow! Truly a spectacular Broadway quality production. Get tickets before they sell out.

Just when one might worry about the future of live theater when only Gen X and Millennials will be left to fill the seats, along comes a creative piece of work that crosses generations. Today, Lin-Manuel Miranda is everybody’s darling as the immigrant voice. The biggest surprise is how easy it is to understand the hip-hop rhythms of the narrative.

Tucked on the Manhattan side of the GWB (George Washington Bridge) is a pocket neighborhood called Washington Heights…the Heights. The barrio for Latin speaking immigrants. The story begins and ends there. Where families share the dignity of their daily lives in their community while striving to fulfill the promise of the American dream. What I took home from this show was their hope to aspire above poverty.

First, the individual(s) responsible for casting this show deserve a bonus. Second, director James Vasquez deserves praise for molding his troupe into a cohesive production of players that shared this intimate story with the audience. His artistic sensibility is evident through the strength of each character.

And third, when a production requires the support of a really great group of musicians they need only to turn to the baton of Elan McMahan. With 53 credits on her resume, McMahan is the go-to-gal to be in the front of the pit. She leads an incredible group of musicians. They are as follows: Bill Lamden, Sharon Martin, Joel Giese, David Fennell, Mark Lewis, Andrew Moreau, Matilda Rudolph, PJ Bovee, David Hall, Steve Wright, Daniel Doerfler, JP Hewitt-Dietrich and McMahan also plays the keyboard.

The spectacular set is by Anna Louizos, a New York based designer. Locally as sound designer is Jim Zadaj who made certain we heard every word and lyric throughout. And where would any production be without Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting design. Oh, I know – in the dark.

Renetta Lloyd dressed the cast perfectly. Gabe Nunez is the make-up designer and Peter Herman designed the wigs and hair. Both know what they are doing. Great jobs, you guys. Not to be overlooked is technical director Justin A.M.M. Hall and the other behind the scenes crew. They are tops in San Diego.

Okay, that is everybody but the cast. Truly, I wanted to save the dessert for last. Where to start. Almost as important as the singing in a musical is the movement. In the case of "In The Heights", every high-energy choreographed step is designed by Carlos Mendoza. His understanding of Latin dances and hip-hop movements enliven the show beyond measure. His remarkable work is like a rhythmic pulse.

Can’t say enough about the great ensemble cast. They are all great dancers and singers and worked their magic throughout.

Wandering in and out of the streets scenes is the Piragua Guy (Jonathan Arana) or shaved ice/snow cone seller. His appearance is always timely and adds a chuckle here and there. Another featured player is Graffiti Pete (Sebastian Montenegro). Not normally a likeable sort of guy, you know the one who goes about with a spray can, yet, Graffiti Pete wins the day and our hearts.

The neighborhood small businesses include a hair salon owned by sassy Daniela (Marlene Montes). She is red hot, let me tell you. One of Daniela’s employees is Carla (Nadia Guevara) who is another feisty Latino miss.

The local limo service is owned by husband Kevin (Rudy Martinez) and wife Camila (Amber-Sky Skipps). Martinez is a wonderful, caring father. Skipps is the spitfire that holds the family together. Her stand-out moment is when she stops the show with "Enough".

Their daughter Nina (Caitlyn Calfas) is remarkable as a singer and a dancer. Her performance is so compelling ya just wanna give her a hug.

Benny (Carleton Bluford) is funny, loveable and hot. Sonny (Nicholas Alexander) as the perpetual screw-up-worst-employee is so endearing in his puppy dog admiration for his uncle – it is impossible not to fall victim to his charm. Vanessa (Michelle Cabinian) portrays the every-girl who desires a better life filled with love.

Abuela is Spanish for grandmother. In this case, Abuela Claudia (Samara Otero) is Cuban. She is the neighborhood matriarch whose voice is from the angels.

Vanessa (Michelle Cabinian) and Sonny (Nicholas Alexander) play matchmaker for his Uncle Usnavi (William Cooper Howell).

Lastly, played with a deep fired passion, the very gifted William Cooper Howell is the heart beat in this show. His performance is masterful. He rocked my world with his voice, charm and swarthy dance moves. He is a great non-dancer, dancer.

Bravo to everyone who had anything to do with "In The Heights". Get a ticket as fast as you can to see this exciting show.

Parents and grandparents: this is a chance to introduce your teens and pre-teens to theatre. There will never be a better opportunity for them to embrace the joy of a live performance while still maintaining their hearing.

"In The Heights" plays at the Moonlight Amphitheatre through Saturday, Sept. 30, Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost from $10 to $55 and are available at the box office, (760) 724-2110 or Bring a picnic if you like.


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