Theater Review: Exuberant ‘In the Heights’ opens NCC Summer Theatre
Northampton Community College Summer Theatre has opened its third annual season with the spirited musical “In the Heights,” set in a Dominican-American neighborhood in New York City’s Washington Heights.
The musical received four Tony Awards, including best musical and best score. The show’s music and lyrics are by Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of “Hamilton.”
“In the Heights” continues through June 16 in Lipkin Theatre, Kopecek Hall, NCC main campus, Bethlehem Township.
With book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the story unfolds over three days encompassing the Fourth of July holiday. The show opens with pivotal character Usnavi, played wonderfully by Matias De La Flor, rapping about the backgrounds of the residents of the neighborhood where he grew up.
Now the owner of a small bodega (market), Usnavi was raised by local matriarch Abuela (grandmother) Claudia (Trish Kane Steele) when his parents died. Steele proves her character is more than just an elderly woman when she lets fly with “Paciencia Y Fe” (“Patience and Faith”), reminiscing about her childhood in Cuba What a voice she has.
Among the outstanding principal cast of 14 are Usnavi’s young, lazy cousin Sonny (Alejandro Navarro); Daniela (Allie Vasquez) and Carla (Melody Cruz), who run the local beauty salon, and Kevin Rosario (Robert Torres) and his wife Camila (Raquel Lopez Clory), who own the local cab company.
Playing the Rosarios’ daughter Nina, Angelica Ramirez gives a heartfelt portrayal of a young girl whose dreams of a college degree are ending because of tuition costs. Her solo “Everything I Know,” sung in memory of Abuela, is tearful and uplifting.
Among key characters are Benny (Daniel Melo), Usnavi’s friend and Nina’s love interest, and Vanessa (Victoria Scovens), who works in the beauty salon, and is Usnavi’s girlfriend.
The relationships get complicated at times, and money problems dominate much of the plot, but a surprising occurrence helps resolve matters by the end of the second act. The exuberant ensemble of 18 dancers and singers joins the rest of the cast, celebrating with “Carnaval del Barrio,” one of the best, most vigorous musical numbers among the 26 in the lively score of hip-hop and salsa music imbued throughout with Spanish lyrics.
In the opening night (June 5) performance, seen for this review, the high quality of the production is aided by NCC Director Bill Mutimer and his extensive production crew. Mutimer is no stranger to working successfully with large casts and he has once again chosen excellent professional staff.
Lucille Kincaid more than meets the challenge as music director, conducting the 12-member band and performing on keyboard. Choreographer Cristina Sohns Williams artfully moves cast and ensemble through a multitude of different performances in a musical that almost is in perpetual motion.
Brett Oliveira’s scenic and lighting design contributes to the feeling of realism with barrio store fronts, apartment windows, fire escapes and a hazy bridge in the background. Costumer Brenda McGuire, designer and owner of Distinctively Sew, dressed the performers in outfits appropriate to their age, status and community.
Tickets: Kopecek Hall lobby, Northampton Community College, Main Campus, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township, noon-4 p.m. Monday-Saturday; ncctix.org; 484-484-3412