Life & Arts
THEATER REVIEW : Cohoes cast soars in ‘Heights’ despite predictable book
COHOES — “In the Heights,” the 2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical being given a strong Capital Region premiere by the team at C-R Productions, is an entertaining, amusing and possibly uplifting story of hard-working immigrants seeking a better life as they try to find their place in new surroundings.
Lin-Manuel Miranda created the piece and composed the score, a music mix of Latino cultures, while engaging Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes to craft the story. But Hudes’ book to this musical is a disappointing and often dull dramatic exercise. More a literary blueprint, bulleted with plot points and character outlines, the story is predictable. What could have been a moving experience lands as a sad, esoteric musical treatment of “Our Town” in the barrio with a salsa-infused score.
Succeeding where Hudes’ book stumbles, Miranda’s score flows with an organic excitement that lifts as it races, without artifi ce or cliché .
Music from the streets of New York City has been sucessfully planted on the Broadway stage before — the muscular “Bring in ’da Noise, Bring in ’da Funk” jumps to mind — but Miranda has taken the rap and the beat and seamlessly woven it into Broadway convention with natural and honest effort. From the neighborhood welcome with the opening number “In the Heights” to the introspective knockout “Intuil” (given wonderful favor by Benjamin Lopez), to Roy Richardson’s stellar street vendor cry “Piraqua,” each of the show’s musical moments captures a visceral feel. The lyrics snap with insight.
Director Tony Rivera has assembled a dynamic young cast that impresses as it entertains. While each actor is given a moment to shine, a few stand out. Amanda Serrano’s hairdresser with attitude, Daniela, sasses it up with style and rips up the stage leading Act 2’s standout ensemble effort “Carnaval del Barrio.” Katrina McGraw finds all the warm notes in Abuela Claudia and shares them richly with “Paciencia y Fe.” Dominic Carol Pierson and Samantha Taglienti work around the overused “separated-by-culture lovers” device with success, providing some touching moments through all the schmaltz. And Nick Anastasia’s puckish bodega buddy Sonny beguiles completely.
But it’s Bones Rodriguez’s Usnavi who ties the tribe together, offering an amiable and warm force that is impossible to resist. The fi nal moments of the show, as he raps through his rediscovery of where his true home lies, are perfectly presented, capturing all the heart in Miranda’s poetry.
Not only can this cast sing the stuff out of the score, choreographer Amanda Trust’s challenging dance numbers are executed with spirit and ease. The “Dance at the Club” which closes Act 1, is so rife with energy and tension that it rivals a dance that happened in another musical “story” over on the West Side.
Jason Sherwood’s stunning multilevel set and Michael Dunn’s costumes capture the right fl avor of the piece. But William Domack’s lighting seems tentative and bland, offering only splashes of color for a story that is ripe with more. Another technical issue is the sound mix. Many times throughout the evening, lyrics were lost, buried under music. Miranda’s lyrics are key to the enjoyment of the show and some, including those that carry important plot points, were overwhelmed by the underscore.