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In the Heights – The Little Theatre of Alexandria

Jordan Wright
July 28, 2015
Special to The Alexandria Times

“Carnival Del Barrio” (Cast) - Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

“Carnival Del Barrio” (Cast) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

Do you speak Spanish?  No problemo.  I’ll bet you can translate most of the words and phrases that have found their way into our everyday lexicon.  Gracias, te amo, buenos dias, piragua (a shaved ice treat.  Okay, that one was new to me.) and dozens more that you didn’t know you knew.  Be prepared to test your skills at In the Heights, now at The Little Theatre of Alexandria.  It’s Latino immersion served up in high energy by a fantastic cast.  Quiara Alegria Hudes, who wrote the book for Conceptualist/Composer/Lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda, allows us a heart-warming glimpse into the lives of Latino immigrants and their assimilation into American culture – New York style.  It’s a tale familiar to every immigrant who has faced the frustrations and hardships that beckoned them to American shores and a show that achieved four Tony Awards and one Grammy for Best Musical Show Album.

Set in the barrio of Washington Heights on the northern tip of Manhattan, a community settled over the past half century by immigrants from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba and assorted Hispanic Caribbean islands, the musical is written in hip-hop, rap and rhyme – en Español, pero con Inglés, tambien.  Spanning the three-day Fourth of July weekend, it tells the story of a determined, close-knit culture and the love stories of Benny (Carl Williams) and Nina (Christy Fischer) and Usnavi (Andres Alejandro Ponce) and Vanessa (Chelsea Crane).  Think West Side Story without the gangs.

Left to Right: Carl Williams (Benny), Andres Alejandro Ponce (Usnavi De Le Vega), Chelsea Crane (Vanessa), Joey Ledonio (Sonny), Patricia Targete (Female Community), Jacqueline Salvador (Carla) - Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

Left to Right: Carl Williams (Benny), Andres Alejandro Ponce (Usnavi De Le Vega), Chelsea Crane (Vanessa), Joey Ledonio (Sonny), Patricia Targete (Female Community), Jacqueline Salvador (Carla) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

Living under the shadow of the George Washington Bridge, Usnavi, the owner of a small bodega that serves the neighborhood, works alongside his cousin, Sonny (Joey Ledonio).  Together they dream of a better life for themselves and their adored Abuela Claudia (Mary Ayala-Bush), matriarch of their family.  Down the street Daniela (Tahara Robinson), Carla (Jacqueline Salvador) and Vanessa ply their hairstyling skills in the Unisex Salon while Vanessa dreams of escaping to the West Village.  Across the way husband and wife, Camila (Janice Rivera) and Kevin (Sean Garcia), run the struggling Rosario’s Car and Limousine service.  Benny, who eloquently raps road conditions to the drivers on the two-way, falls hard for their daughter, Nina, a scholarship student at Stamford and the hope of the neighborhood.  It’s a “beans and rice” life for most of them.

Twenty-five musical numbers underpin this high-energy production, punctuating the action with breakdancing, rhumba and catchy Latin rhythms.  LTA has done a tremendous job casting all 22 super-talented dancers and singers, more than a few of whom raised the roof – – most especially the riveting and hugely talented, Ponce; the powerhouse voice of the diminutive Crane, Usnavi’s love interest; the sass and comedic timing of Robinson who kills it in “Carnival del Barrio”; the cool hipster vibe and beautiful voice of Williams, who duets with Fischer’s dulcet tones in “Sunrise”; and Garcia, who lends operatic pathos to “Alabanza”.

Left to Right: Joey Ledonio (Sonny), Andres Alejandro Ponce (Usnavi De La Vega) - Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

Left to Right: Joey Ledonio (Sonny), Andres Alejandro Ponce (Usnavi De La Vega) – Photos by Keith Waters / Kx Photography

Raves for Choreographer Stefan Sittig, a veteran of over 60 productions and multiple WATCH Award nominee, who drives the cast to nearly pop the floorboards in “The Club” an all-out dance-a-thon brilliantly lit by Ken and Patti Crowley to echo a Diego Rivera painting; and Director, Frank D. Shutts, who bravely takes on a musical that stretches LTA’s typical audience to embrace the edge.

Highly recommended.

Through August 15th at The Little Theatre of Alexandria, 600 Wolfe Street. For tickets and information call the box office at 703 683-0496 or visit www.thelittletheatre.com

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