DePaul University’s In the Heights Review – Musical Theatre with a Twist

 

            The Theatre School at DePaul University opened In the Heights, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, and conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, to a nearly sold out crowd on its Fullerton Stage Theatre in the new Theatre School building located at Racine and Fullerton. The production, directed by Lisa Portes, came to life in a fun and energetic way that had the audience cheering and laughing throughout the show. In the Heights is a unique piece of musical theatre because it is not necessarily a “sung through” show. Many of the songs have a distinctive mix between rap and singing, which lead to an audience experience that was unlike any other. While it was mostly the male members of the company that did the rapping, the vocal talent throughout the cast was magnificent. A true ensemble show, In the Heights hit its stride during the full cast dance and singing numbers. Extraordinary talent was seen throughout the show and made the musical that much more enjoyable.

 

 

            In the Heights is set on the days between July 3rd and July 5th within Washington Heights in New York City. The shows follows Usnavi de la Vega (Wesley Toledo) and members the Latin-American community he lives in.



Everyone there is struggling between their financial realities and the dreams they reach for, until someone in the neighborhood wins the lottery totaling $96,000! This incredible event sparks change in the area, which isn’t wanted by everyone. What will happen when some friends have to leave while others dwell on the fact that will be staying?

 

            While it was clear the production was the work of many talented cast and crew members, two actors really stood out in my mind. Wesley Toledo (Usnavi de la Vega) and Krystal Ortiz (Nina Rosario) held the leading player positions with superior acting and vocal abilities. Toledo set the scene early on as the guy who wanted more, but was also pleased with what he had. He had a good shop and a girl he was interested in. He basically held the community together. Toledo’s portrayal of Usnavi was spot on. This type of role takes a versatile actor who not only needed to sing and act at a high level, but also had to rap the majority of his numbers. Ortiz, on the other hand, did not have to rap anything, but her voice was so pure and strong that the audience was mesmerized by her singing. As a college freshman who realized how hard it can be to balance being a student and holding a job, Nina comes back to Washington Heights defeated and scared, but also happy to be with her friends again. Ortiz showed great adaptability in playing Nina’s softer, vulnerable side, as well as her strong, self-assured characteristics. As the heart of the show, both Toledo and Ortiz wowed the crowed with their talents.

 

            I would highly recommend this show to any and all theatre lovers in the Chicago area. Not only is the cast filled with talented students, it is also a fun and enjoyable show that contains issues we can all relate to.

 

Photo Credit: Michael Brosilow

 

Additional Information:

Tickets are $15 and student tickets are $5. Subscriptions and group rates (6 or more people) are available. All tickets are reserved seating. Tickets are available by calling (773) 325-7900 or visiting the online box office at http://theatre.depaul.edu.

 

The production opens on Friday October 3, 2014 and runs through Sunday, October 12, 2014. Performances are Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 PM and Sundays at 2 PM. Additional special events include an Opening Night Reception following the performance on October 3, and post-show discussions on October 5 and 9.

 

The Theatre School at DePaul University is located at 2350 N Racine Ave (at Fullerton). The school is easily accessible via the Fullerton CTA Station and the Fullerton (74) bus. Visitors and audience members can park in DePaul University’s Clifton Parking Deck, located at 2330 N Clifton Avenue. Please call the Box Office for more information or for help in planning your trip.

 

For patrons who are blind or have low-vision, the performance will be audio described on Friday, October 10 (7:30 PM) with a pre-performance touch tour. Call 773.325.7900. The performance on October 12 (2 PM) will be interpreted in American Sign Language. TTY: 773.325.7975. Wednesday, October 8 (7:30 PM) is USO of IL Night, U.S. Armed Forces personnel and their families can attend the performance for free. Visit www.tixfortroops.org to reserve tickets, or call 773.325.7900 for more information.

 

The cast features Victoria Allen (Carla), Madeline Baird (Ensemble), Trevor Bates (Ensemble), Lucy Blehar (Vanessa), Michael Sebastian Buono (Sonny), Denzel Irby (Ensemble), Christopher Jones (Piragua Guy), Craig Ketchum (Ensemble), Juwan Lockett (Benny), Jeri Marshall (Claudia), Lauren Mitchell (Ensemble), Krystal Ortiz (Nina), Paola Sanchez (Camila), Talia Payomo (Graffiti Pete), Jeremy Pfaff (Kevin), Max Stewart (Ensemble), Sofia Tew (Daniela), Gail Tierney (Ensemble), and Wesley Toledo (Usnavi).

 

The production staff includes Lisa Portes (Director), Elyse Balogh (Scenic Designer), Courtney Schum (Costume Designer), Dan Friedman (Lighting Designer), Rachel Boissevain (Sound Designer), Maureen Kuhl (Dramaturg), and Dana Stringer (Stage Manager).

 

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