Performances reach new heights

Lively opening night for “In the Heights” from talented Valley cast members.

By Zaida Diaz, Staff Writer

It was a night filled with upbeat tempos incorporating elements from Latin and hip-hop music matched by some big voices at Valley’s Main Stage on Friday for the opening of “In the Heights.”

The musical tells the story of Latino urban dwellers dreaming of a prosperous future. Families in the neighborhood of Washington Heights, New York struggle with assimilation, family, and money.

In its initial Broadway run, “In the Heights” won four Tony Awards, including Best Musical, in 2008. Its variety of musical styles and comic and dancing demands provided a worthy challenge for the Theater Arts Department.

The signature role of Usnavi (originally played by Tony-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda) was wonderfully portrayed by Willie Vasquez. The unassuming narrator character owns a small bodega in his neighborhood and dreams of returning to his birthplace in the Dominican Republic. Vasquez embodied the “barrio guy” as he moved effortlessly across the stage rapping and singing. Usnavi is deeply enamored with Vanessa (Katherine Arevelo), who longs to leave the block the first chance she gets.

However, it was Marena Rosado as Nina Rosario who shined through with her big voice. Her number, “Breathe,” marked a high point, and she delivered raw emotion as she explained the pressure in being the first from her family to go to college.

Joclyn Palucho delivered a notable performance as Daniela, the sassy and outspoken hairstylist. Palucho flawlessly personified the bold character, Cuban accent and all.

There were, however, a few minor glitches in the musical; on occasion the music overpowered some of the singer’s voices, which made it difficult to understand the lyrics.

The cast faced an obstacle during Act II when Graffiti Pete (Justin Sabino) struggled to pull down the bodega’s gate. However, Vasquez improvised and jokingly asked, “Need some help there . . . don’t want you breaking any more things.” Sonny, played by Micah Mora, rushed to help; they played it off and the audience laughed with them.

Despite the minor hitches, the ensemble’s cheerful singing and dancing made it a lively night worth experiencing.

The musical’s multicultural aspect and its honest depiction of the pursuit of the American Dream and the struggles to realize it, make it relatable to many.  

The Theater Arts Department will be presenting “In The Heights” on Nov. 21-22 at 8 p.m. in the Main Stage of the Theatre Arts Building. Monarchs can purchase general admission tickets in advance at www.brownpapertickets.com for $15, or for $20 at the door.

Your thoughts?