Home is where the heart is. Whether home is in a fancy high rise apartment in Manhattan, modest home in the suburbs, or the barrio of Washington Heights in New York City, it’s the family created from the friends made throughout the neighborhood and the experiences shared with that family that reminds people how important having a place to call home truly is.
This is the idea behind “In the Heights,” the 2008 Tony Award winner for best musical penned by Quiara Alegria Hudes with lyrics and music by Lin-Manuel Miranda. The highly touted, hip hop musical is now on the SCU Presents stage, with Dominic Lewis tackling the role of the musical’s main character, Usnavi.
Lewis fiercely attacks his challenge, playing Usnavi with the same passion that creator Miranda pumped into the character when he played the role throughout some of the play’s Broadway run. The musical, however, isn’t about one individual character, but it’s the story of the love and friendship found within in an entire community.
Usnavi runs the local bodega, Nina (Kalina Venugopal) is returning from her first year at Stanford University, Kevin and Camila Rosario (Max Jennings and Claudia Schumann) run the local car and limousine service, Benny (Drew Kemp) is the only non-Spanish speaker in the neighborhood and in love with Nina, Daniela (Regina Fields) owns the neighborhood beauty shop, Usnavi’s love interest Vanessa (Naomi Evans) yearns to leave the barrio, and Abuela Claudia (Sandra Henschke) is essentially the glue holding everyone together.
When it’s learned that Usanvi’s bodega sold the winning lottery ticket worth $96,000 – more money than anyone has ever seen – the cast of characters fantasizes over what they would do if they had won. But, the neighborhood is changing. The Rosarios sell their business to pay for Nina’s schooling, Vanessa signs a lease for an apartment outside Washington Heights, Daniella closes the doors of her salon, Usnavi decides to close the bodega and move to the Dominican Republic. And, in the midst of all the chaos, Claudia dies. Usnavi’s cousin, Sonny (Theodore Adams IV) – the one person who wants things to stay the same – has a plan to remind everyone that just because Claudia is no longer with them, and the neighborhood is in transition, that Washington Heights is still home.
Directed by Kimberly Mohne Hill, it’s difficult to dislike “In the Heights,” with its catchy songs and athletic choreography; and while not every performer was pitch perfect or perfectly portrayed (although Henschke’s Claudia alone is worth the price of admission), the overall feeling of the show and the message found in the music, makes it worth every second spent embedded in the lives of the characters.
“In the Heights” runs June 4-7 at 8 p.m. General admission tickets are between $5 and $15 and can be purchased at http://scupresents.org/performances/mainstage-theatre-heights.