“In the Heights” by Jacksonville University’s Department of Theatre is a Dancing Delight

A DUAL CRITICS REVIEW

Jacksonville University’s Department of Theatre has staged three performances of “In The Heights” at the Swisher Theater during January 17 -19, 2020. The musical was a blockbuster, with book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. A Broadway opening in March 2008 garnered a Pulitzer prize nomination for Drama, thirteen Tony nominations and four awards: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography, Best Orchestration. And as you probably know, Miranda didn’t stop there – he wrote and starred in “Hamilton,” which was nominated for sixteen Tonys in 2016, won eleven awards, and received the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. “Hamilton” is coming to Jacksonville later this year.  

https://folioweekly.com/2020/01/21/hamilton-tickets-go-on-sale-to-the-public/

“In The Heights” is about life in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, The Barrio is bordered by the Hudson River to the west; the George Washington Bridge looms in the background. The diverse community is largely Hispanic.

Most of the action takes place in the streets and small shops of the Heights. Usnavi (Carlos Adorno) is a major character who offers commentary throughout. He runs a bodega which sells brewed coffee, soft drinks, snacks, newspapers and other items. He has a romantic reciprocated interest in Vanessa (Emely Cuestas) who works, along with Carla (Janaira Perez), in a nearby beauty salon owned by the assertive and overly talkative Daniela (Jeilymar Morales). 

"In the Heights" by Jacksonville University’s Department of Theatre is a Dancing Delight

Tish Lopez, who has a marvelous singing voice, is wonderful as Abuela Claudia, the residents’ unofficial grandmother and problem-solver. And while many of the residents seek her advice after encountering problems, she and Usnavi have a special bond; his parents died when he was very young and she looked after him.  

 Isabella Martinez portrays Nina Rosario, one of the central characters. She is a JU senior and has appeared in a number of JU and local community theatre productions. Nina received a scholarship from Stanford and is the first from the barrio to go to college. Unfortunately, the scholarship didn’t cover everything and she found she couldn’t work two jobs and be a successful student at the same time, so she had to return home. Her father Kevin (Zachary Rivera) owns a small taxi cab company which is not doing well financially. 

"In the Heights" by Jacksonville University’s Department of Theatre is a Dancing Delight

Nina falls in love with Benny (Abrien Nelson); Martinez and Nelson sing beautifully together. He is employed by her father and this appears to be a good match, as he is ambitious and hopes to open his own business in the future.  However, her father is adamantly opposed to his becoming part of the family, although his wife Camila (Nati Gonzalez) is supportive. 

The play has a number of colorful characters who include Sonny (James Demps), Usnavi’s often joking cousin; Piragua Guy (Daniel Pesante), an upbeat young man who sells shaved ice from his pushcart; and Graffiti Pete (Jeremy Ferri), an artist with surprising skill.

“In the Heights” is filled with singing and dancing throughout, which includes mambo, merengue, and salsa. The dancing becomes especially captivating when the entire neighborhood celebrates summer in “Carnaval del Barrio.”

"In the Heights" by Jacksonville University’s Department of Theatre is a Dancing Delight

The talented energetic ensemble included Angie Acedera, Cecilia Despres, Jackie Glassman, Arlynes Marrero, Isabella Sanchez, Johnny Flannagan, and Cristian Torres.

The show was directed by Erik DeCicco, with Yidi Lin (Choreographer), Aaron DeCicco (Music Director), Alexandra Gravina (Assistant Music Director), Sarah Stepp (Assistant Director),  Brandon Lettow (Scenic Design and Technical Direction), Candace Dickens (Lighting Design), Dana Ferger (Costume Design), Mikaela Dalton & Wesley Urbaczyk (Costume Team), Cayla Coen (Property Design), Alexandra Gravina (Stage Manager), Ian Hyche & Victoria Rogers (Board Ops) , Lexi Dares, Anna Fleece, Olivia Montalbano, & Ainslee Nipper. (Production Assistants and Crew).

Did you miss this spectacular show? Or want to see it again? “In the Heights” is a collaboration between the Theatre Departments at Jacksonville University and Florida State College at Jacksonville, and will be staged at FSCJ’s South Campus in the Wilson Theatre during January 23 – 25, at 7:30 p.m. Call the Box Office at (904) 646-2222 for tickets and additional information.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.
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