OGDEN — Before Hamilton was well, Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a show called In The Heights about life in the neighborhood of Washington Heights “even farther than Harlem” on the island of Manhattan. The show opened on Broadway in 2008, was awarded the Tony Award for Best Musical, and Miranda’s was born. While the success of Miranda continues, In The Heights was an amazing first venture, the story of immigrants and their children as they try and make their way in the world with the history of their former countries and the country and neighborhood they now call home. The Good Company Theatre’s production was an excellent representation of Quiara Alegría Hudes‘s script and Miranda’s music that wowed audiences back in 2008.
Because In The Heights is set in New York City, the set of the production is an important piece of the show. Using stage scaffolding was an interesting choice by set designer Ricky Parkinson, who utilized the space of the stage well and small pieces to make the ambiance of the production fit the story. What added even more to this was the sound elements. Sound designer Austin Stephenson did a superb job of finding the appropriate mix of city sounds so that I could close my eyes and believe I was back in upper Manhattan.
While there are a lot of individual performances to point out, more than anything In The Heights is an ensemble show. The most important numbers of the story are the group numbers, and part of the plot involves how one character, Abuela Claudia, played beautifully by Tamara Howell, connects them all. Director Austin Archer and music director Ginger Bess Simons had the difficult task of trying to develop the elements of the ensemble in order to help portray the emotion and excitement of the show. While they were mostly successful in this venture, there were a few misses. In the song, “Breathe,” the character Nina, played by Becca Burdick, is worried about her return to a world where she was the top of everything, after an unsuccessful experience at Stanford. While Burdick had a strong hold of the song and gave a masterful performance, some of the ensemble upstaged her and did not have the somber mood of the number in their movements. I thought that it was perhaps a one-time thing, but throughout the show I found that there were a few cast members either consistently upstaging those around them, or perhaps not really being connected at all to the experience of the show. This was distracting and unfair to the lead actors, all of whom were very strong. Choreography, also by Archer, was skillfully designed and taught, but the ensemble could work on being more in sync with one another.
As for the main performers, much could be said about each of them. One strong highlight of the evening was the song “Enough,” sung by Camila Rosario, played by Katie Evans. My ten year old daughter attended this performance with me, and after that song she whispered “I bet everyone will listen to that mom now!” Evans has a strong voice, and more importantly was able to convey the emotion the character feels in that very important song. One of the best roles of the night was Gray Mckenzie as Benny. The song “Benny’s Dispatch” requires the skill of both rapping and vocalizing, and the balance that Mckenzie had was perfect. His performance was solid and improved throughout the evening. The two duets that he and Burdick sang, “When Your Home” and “Sunrise,” were both touching and full of good chemistry. The ladies who work in the hair salon, Daniela (played by Liz Corona) and Carla (played by Erica Walters), were hilarious. “No Mi Diga” is a song that balances between comedic relief and story exposition, and the duo did a wonderful job of hitting that difficult balance.
As narrator and the main crux of the story, the character of Usnavi has a challenging role to perform. Jacob Barnes was an endearing addition to the production, and balanced the awkward nerdiness of the character with the strong and emotional backbone that is needed for such a role. As love interest Vanessa, Aalliyah Jenks was the right choice for the part. In fact, the casting of all the roles in this show seemed to be right on par.
Finally, I will say that I am glad to see this production being produced. The story of building a family and a home wherever you end up is a strong one to tell, and I encourage anyone who is unaware of this show to go to Ogden and check out In the Heights.