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Theater Review: “In the Heights"

The cast of "In The Heights."
Photo credit:
In the Heights Production Photography

A smashing production of “In the Heights,” Broadway wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first big hit, closes out Moonlight Stage Productions’ summer series of musicals through Sept. 30 at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre.

The wildly popular musical began as an 80-minute class project while composer Lin-Manuel Miranda was a sophomore at Wesleyan University. With a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, it went on to a Broadway run, 13 Tony nominations and four wins (for best musical, score, choreography and orchestrations).

It’s a hip-hop/salsa/merengue valentine to New York’s Washington Heights, a Hispanic neighborhood with plenty of music and heart (if not a surfeit of money), and features Miranda’s specialty – readily identifiable and likable characters.

Usnavi (William Cooper Howell) anchors the show as owner of the ’hood’s bodega, the place to go for coffee and gossip. Usnavi’s helper is his cousin Sonny (Nicholas Alexander), who at one point helps the shy Usnavi out by setting up a date for him with Vanessa (Michelle Cabinian), the sultry hairdresser next door.

Abuela Claudia (Samara Otero) isn’t really anybody’s grandma, but she did take the orphaned Usnavi under her wing at a young age and has been the neighborhood matriarch ever since.

Kevin (Rudy Martinez) and Camila (Amber-Sky Skipps) own Rosario’s struggling taxi dispatch service, which employs African-American Benny (Carleton Bluford).

There is great jubilation when Kevin and Camila’s daughter Nina (Caitlyn Calfas) comes home from Stanford – the first person in her family to attend college. But she is coming home for a reason her parents won’t want to hear. Kevin also won’t want to hear that she has a bit of a fancy for Benny.

Then there’s local gossip Daniela (Marlene Montes), owner of the hair salon, and everybody’s favorite Piragua Guy (Jonathan Arana), always present with those fruity, icy treats.

But it’s the music you’re here for – Miranda’s jaunty, rhythmically exciting score that may have you, as it did me, wanting to get up and dance. And conductor Elan McMahan’s forces (13 fine musicians) do it justice.

Speaking of dance, Carlos Mendoza’s choreography is just right, as is Anna Louizos’ set. Costumes (by Renetta Lloyd), lighting (Jean-Yves Tessier) and sound (Jim Zadai) are first-rate.

Congratulations to Moonlight on this terrific show, a fitting end to their 37th season. 

The details

“In the Heights” plays through September 30, 2017 at Moonlight Amphitheatre, 

1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista 92084

Wednesday through Sunday at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: (760) 724-2110 or www.moonlightstage.com