Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

In the Heights
Olney Theatre Center / Round House Theatre
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Robin de Jesús and Ensemble
Photo by Stan Barouh
After selling out both their entire original run of In the Heights and a one-week extension, Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre have added another week of performances, through October 22 at Olney. It's an electric and deeply satisfying production, so get tickets while they're still available.

The general public learned about Lin-Manuel Miranda when his Hamilton became a major cultural phenomenon, but musical theatre lovers already knew about him from his Tony Award-winning 2008 musical about life in a Latino immigrant community in upper Manhattan. While Miranda's score is not through-sung, director-choreographer Marcos Santana has staged the production with continuous movement; even when ensemble members walk across the stage, they seem to dance.

Quiara Alegría Hudes' fluid book follows a variety of characters through a hot July 4th weekend in the Washington Heights neighborhood. Usnavi (Robin de Jesús) owns the corner bodega (the New York term for a small grocery store), which he runs with his outspoken young cousin Sonny (Michael J. Mainwaring), and has a crush on hairdresser Vanessa (Linedy Genao), who wants to move downtown. Vanessa works for Daniela (Nastascia Diaz), who is moving her salon to the Bronx because the rent is getting too high. Kevin and Camila Rosario (Danny Bolero, Vilma Gil) are struggling to keep their taxi business going, while their daughter Nina (Mili Diaz) is home after her first year as a scholarship student at Stanford. Nina reconnects with her high school classmate Benny (Marquise White), now her parents' only African-American employee, while Abuela Claudia (Rayanne Gonzales) serves as everyone's honorary grandmother. Complications include a winning lottery ticket, a blackout, and the threat of gentrification.

De Jesús, who received a Tony nomination for playing Sonny in the Broadway production, has an easy grace in the narrator role originated by Miranda, rattling off the complex hip-hop lyrics without missing a beat. Gonzales exudes warmth and pride, Genao conveys her character's determination to stand out as she dominates on the dance floor, Mili Diaz and White have a sweet chemistry, Mainwaring sparks with energy, and Nastascia Diaz adds an amusing tartness to the mix. (As in Hamilton, Miranda delineates characters through different musical styles and rhythms.) Christopher Youstra leads a hot ensemble of eight musicians.

The production design provides a remarkable amount of detail in a relatively small space. Milagros Ponce de León's scenic design brings together front stoops and storefronts, fire escapes and open windows, a subway station and a floor grate that periodically belches out steam. Cory Pattak's lighting design encompasses special effects (fireworks, nightclub lighting) as well as the sky from dawn through dusk to darkness. Frank Labovitz has created costumes that are right for the characters without calling undue attention to themselves.

Olney Theatre Center and Round House Theatre
In the Heights
September 6th - October 22nd, 2017
Music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Graffiti Pete: Juan Drigo Ricafort
Usnavi: Robin de Jesús
Piragua Guy: Tobias A. Young
Abuela Claudia: Rayanne Gonzales
Carla: Melissa Victor
Daniela: Nastascia Diaz
Kevin: Danny Bolero
Camila: Vilma Gil
Sonny: Michael J. Mainwaring
Benny: Marquise White
Vanessa: Linedy Genao
Nina: Mili Diaz
Ensemble: Scean Aaron, Eunice Bae, Sharlane Conner, Andre Hinds, Jesse Jones, Ashleigh King, Rebecca Kritzer
Director/Choreographer: Marcus Santana
Music Director/Programming: Christopher Youstra
2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road
Olney, MD
Ticket Information: 301-924-3400 or