Regional Reviews: Las Vegas
In the Heights
Director Keith Dotson brings In the Heights to exuberant life this month at the Super Summer Theatre. While the amphitheatre's beautiful outdoor setting is hardly a natural venue for Miranda's tale of inner-city hopes and dreams, the production succeeds in transporting the audience to a tight-knit urban enclave in Washington Heights, an historic immigrant neighborhood in the northern section of Manhattan, populated largely by Dominicans and other Latinos. This theatrical illusion owes much of its magic to the graffiti-laced set design of magician-turned-scenic-designer Joaquin Ayala.
In the Heights explores the life of an entire neighborhood; individuals are just dots on the canvas. A college student returns home after a devastating freshman year, only to find that her family's hard-won business is on the verge of collapse. A hairdresser dreams of a better life downtown; meanwhile, the salon itself may be forced out by rising rents. A bodega owner sees his customers dwindle due to lost jobs and relocation. A power outage in the summer heat leads to vandalism and strained relationships. Racism emerges from an unexpected source. And, of course, love blooms.
Dotson has paced the production well; the performers keep their energy levels high from beginning to end, and scene follows scene with barely the time to take a breath. Ellen Bone's agile lighting design keeps things moving as well, allowing the action to begin in one location just as it is ending in another. However, the lighting on the young couple in "Sunrise" is at odds with the romantic mood; it feels like they should be brushing their teeth rather than falling in love. In contrast, the lighting of the "Blackout" number is impressive.
Miranda's whip-smart lyrics are the show's greatest asset, and the entire cast deserves credit for enunciating well, both in the book scenes and the vocals. They are accompanied by a small but lively orchestra. While the presence of live musicians is always preferable to a recorded track, the music here is over-amplified, competing with the performers' efforts to get the words across. Sound mix is a tricky business in an outdoor setting, but the result here is disappointing.
All of the leads inhabit their roles convincingly, combining solid acting with strong vocals. Despite their youth, there are no weak links in the cast. Standouts include Jamar Thompson as Benny, Kyara Isis Williams as Nina, Celina Speights as Vanessa, and Andrew Driovich and Kelly Burrows as Nina's parents Kevin and Camila. Thompson and Williams are especially impressive in their duets, and Driovich commands the stage in "Inútil (Useless)." As Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood matriarch, Demyia Browning has the impossible task of playing a character many decades her senior, and she almost nails it. She reveals a beautiful voice in "Paciencia y Fe (Patience and Faith)."
The lively chorus sings and dances well. Although the dancing lacks the pop and sizzle that would bring a number like "Carnaval Del Barrio" to its full glory, choreographer Rommel Pacson does as well as can be expected with an ensemble that consists largely of young theatre students. While energetic, expressive and crisp in their execution, they lack the athleticism of Broadway gypsies. One notable exception is Andrew Branche, from the Dance Theatre of Harlem, a lithe performer who seems capable of doing more than he is tasked with here.
A fine way to spend a summer evening, In the Heights packs a lot of entertainment into a tidy two-hour package, and showcases some of the Valley's best emerging talent.
In the Heightscontinues through July 29, 2017 (Wednesday-Saturday at 8:05 pm), at the Super Summer Theatre at Spring Mountain Ranch State Park, 6375 NV Route. 159, Las Vegas, NV 89004 (on Blue Diamond Road, in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, just north of Bonnie Springs Ranch). For tickets ($15 general admission) or further information, go to www.supersummertheatre.org. The show is performed without an intermission. Parking is free.