Sep 29, 2011

[Theater] In The Heights (Atlantis Productions)

When you live outside the US (or even just outside of New York), getting access to top Broadway shows is pretty challenging. It's not like I have the financial capability (or even just the visa) to hop onto a plane to New York to catch a show over the weekend and then fly right on back. It sucks, but what can you do right?

At times I've tried getting bootleg copies of some major plays and musicals and while you'll generally get a good idea of what the show is like and how it runs, it's never the same thing. My fellow Broadway fans can surely relate to this little conundrum.

So I'm very, very thankful for theater companies like Atlantis Productions that put a lot of effort into getting the rights for the major plays and doing this best to stage them well. While you can argue to the high heavens that a local production will never be like Broadway, it doesn't mean they can't come pretty darned close. And this was definitely one of those stand-out plays that really, really impressed me with how well it was done.

Lin-Manuel Miranda describes his life and work...Image via WikipediaIn The Heights is a musical that made it to Broadway in 2008 and went on to win four Tony Awards out of 13 nominations. Both music and lyrics were by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the play also went on to with the Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. The local production was staged by Atlantis Productions as directed by Bobby Garcia and ran from September 2 - 18, 2011.

The play centers around a rather close-knit Dominican-American community known as Washington Heights in New York City. We first meet Usnavi (Nyoy Volante), who is the owner of the local bodega and dreams of returning to his parents' homeland in the Dominican Republic. He was practically raised by Abuela Claudia (Jay Glorioso), who is pretty much matriarch of their little barrio. He's also in love with Vanessa (Ima Castro), who works at Daniela's hair salon. She also has dreams of moving to a better place - but in her case this means downtown New York.

Then we have the return of Nina Rosario (K-La Rivera), who is back from her freshman year at Stanford University. But she's not just back for vacation - she had been struggling with keeping with her schoolwork and several part-time jobs and had managed to lose her scholarship. Her parents Kevin (Calvin Millado) and Camila (Jackie Lou Blanco) have their own problems as they try to keep their car service business alive while one of their employees, Benny (Felix Rivera), holds a fire for Nina.

There are quite a number of other characters to factor in as we follow them over the course of several days. Truths are revealed. Dreams are explored. And of course love is realized. It's all the sort of things that help make musical theater so powerful as it endeavors to capture the human experience as best as it can, but this time with a unique Latin American flavor to it all.

Given my past concerns with how Aida had been handled, I'm glad that Atlantis took steps to ensure that the dancing was on a level that was at par as the singing this time around. The various dance numbers woven into the narrative of In The Heights are integral to the overall feel and flavor of the show and I definitely respect the talent they brought in for this production. Hence the reason I mention this first before we get into the acting.

Nyoy Volante was AMAZING as Unsnavi, without a doubt. Not only did he manage to execute the highly complex rap numbers that were part and parcel of his character, but he really brought the character to life in a manner that made us all feel for him. We laughed at his jokes and found his sheepish attempts to get Vanessa's attention adorable and I'm sure we all felt the intensity of his passion. That, without a doubt, is how good theater should be done and this is definitely one of his best performances to date.

Ima Castro also felt a lot more at home here than when I saw her in Aida. The role better suited her, I think, although at times I still feel she's holding herself back in order to remain in a level similar to her peers. We all know she's more than capable in the vocals department, thus it seems all the more evident that she keeps herself in check, especially in group numbers.

Felix Rivera continues to be quite the versatile and dynamic actor and a talent that Atlantis really needs to continue to invest in for the success of their shows in the future. He's really grown as an actor given the many plays I've seen him in and this role, perhaps together with his performance in Next to Normal really showcase just what a talented actor he is. He was great as Benny whether in terms of acting, singing and even the fun dancing and I look forward to his next production.

The rest of the cast left me with slightly mixed feelings. I totally loved both Jackie Lou Blanco Tex Ordonex in their respective roles as Camila and Daniela. They were marvelous in how they brought their respective characters to life and really brought emotional impact to the show. Bibo Reyes was quite the darling as Sonny and his antics were comedy gold, quite seriously. On the flip side, K-La Rivera really had little impact on the acting front but could certainly sing quite well on cue. Calvin Millado also lacked sufficient presence when on stage, which was a shame given he was all the more in contrast to Jackie Lou Blanco.

The material that makes this show is just amazing, but it was made all the more real for me and my partner given how well the whole production came together. Set design was interesting and a nice echo of the original show. Dance numbers and songs were all done quite well. If there's anything I could complain about, it would probably be the music in the sense that it lacked some degree of impact. I understand how challenging it is to control the kind of strong samba sounds that make up the show but somehow the efforts to keep things balanced didn't quite work out well. It's not that it was bad mind you - I just wish I could have felt the base beat a lot better - a consequence of RCBC's lack of a proper orchestra pit I suppose.

Overall, the show was amazing and I still feel it was a performance worthy of the original run. I'm thankful that Atlantis brought this powerful play here to the country and I'm even more glad that I managed to catch it. My thanks as well to Theody for continually helping me get good tickets for these Atlantis productions. As for In The Heights itself, it more than deserves a full 5 mobile phones trying to light the night out of a possible 5.

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  1. Hey! Me and my partner also watched this a few weekends ago. And I agree, Nyoy Volante was a revelation. :)

  2. Glad you enjoyed it! He was indeed awesome!