Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Winter's Tale
This has been a very good year for Lin-Manuel Miranda in Washington, DC. In preparation for the first Washington visit of Hamilton, at the Kennedy Center, and following two locally produced versions of In the Heights (one in English, one in Spanish) up for Helen Hayes Awards, the Kennedy Center recently presented a high-spirited, semi-staged production of In the Heights as part of its Broadway Center Stage series.
The performers were talented and the orchestra, led by music director Zachary Dietz, were both on pitch and enthusiastic; the problem was that the musicians overwhelmed the voices at several points, especially during the stretches of lyrically driven hip-hop. Not that the audience cared; the people in the Eisenhower Theater left the cold, sloppy weather outside to spend a steamy Fourth of July in Manhattan's Washington Heights.
Director/choreographer Stephanie Klemons molded a solid ensemble out of singing, dancing actors with Broadway and regional credits, with some standouts in larger roles. Anthony Ramos, recently in the New York cast of Hamilton, provided a solid anchor as Usnavi, the bodega owner and tour guide to the neighborhood, and Ana Villafañe (the Broadway lead in On Your Feet!) brought sweetness and grit, as well as power, to Nina, the barrio girl who left with a scholarship to Stanford and is back facing unexpected problems. Vanessa Hudgens was a powerhouse as Vanessa, a hairdresser looking to move downtown and be a star on the dance floor; Eden Espinosa was rueful and gently cynical as Vanessa's boss Daniela, who can no longer afford her rent and was moving her salon to the Bronx; and Saundra Santiago was heartbreaking as Abuela Claudia, who came to New York as a child from Cuba and has seen so many changes.
Unadorned scaffolding was the core of Anna Louizos' set, with stairs and multiple levels to suggest crowded apartments and small storefronts. Andrea Lauer costumed the cast in vivid colors, while Zachary Borovay's projections brought the audience into Abuela Claudia's memories of her life in Havana and 1940s New York.
The Kennedy Center opened the Broadway Center Stage series with a star-driven production of Chess in February and will present How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying in June.