Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
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