The Ordway Theater has brought Washington Heights, NYC to Saint Paul, Minnesota. In the Heights opened the Ordway's season last weekend. It is the show that put Lin Manuel Miranda on the theatrical map back in 2008, (he is now better known for his mega hit Hamilton). The show is full of life, mixing hip hop beats with the more theatrical "showtune" sound, as well as latin beats as it sets the scene of a little neighborhood in Washington Heights, Manhattan. This is the first time that I have ever seen the show but I have been listening to the soundtrack for years and have watched the Tony performance on youtube more times than I can count. It is risky to see a show when you have had so much time to create your own image of it in your head, but the Ordway did not disappoint. Sitting down in the theater the set by Anna Louizos looked just like the pictures I've seen of the Broadway set (probably because it was the same set designer), and the costumes by Trevor Bowen were also very familiar from the Broadway show. But most importantly it had just has much energy and heart that I could have hoped for.
The story, set on one block, follows a community of immigrants and descendants of immigrants as they struggle to stay afloat as the rent prices continue to climb and the neighborhood changes. The opening song introduces the group of main players perfectly, there is Usnavi who is our narrator played by Justin Gregory Lopez who runs a bodega with his cousin Sonny(Fernando Collado). The Rosarios (Pedro R. Bayón and Lara Trujillo) who run the cab company, and their daughter Nina (Aline Mayagoitia) back after her first year at Stanford. Benny (Stephen Scott Wormley), Usnavi's best friend who words for the Rosarios and also has eyes for Nina. There is also the salon where Carla (Emily Madigan), Daniela (Lauren Villegas) and Vanessa (Val Nuccio) work. And finally Abuela Claudia(Debra Cardona), a Cuban immigrant who serves as the matriarch of the block.
The cast is filled out by a very talented ensemble that completes the neighborhood, making it vibrant and bustling just like New York City. Flipping through the program I was very pleased to see that the entire cast with the exception of some of the leads are local talent. As much as I love seeing different faces come in and bring some different experience to our amazing Twin Cities Theater it is also nice when you can see a Broadway level show and know that the people on stage are your neighbors, the people the make up your community.
Seeing this show was a joy and I've been humming the songs ever since. 96,000 and Carnival del Barrio were some of my favorites, making me want to dance in my seat. But the song that possibly wowed me the most was Paciencia Y Fe performed flawlessly by Debra Cardona, an extremely moving and vocally powerful song about Abuela Claudia's move to NYC from Havana in the 1940s that tore the house down.
In the Heights is only playing at the Ordway for one more week, until September 24th. I wish that the Ordway had longer runs so more people had a chance to see their very impressive shows. I highly recommend this show, go and celebrate life love and community with the extremely talented cast of In the Heights.
And if you want to know more about the show and how it turned into the show that won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 2008 check out this episode (http://broadwaybackstory.libsyn.com/in-the-heights-part-1) of one of my favorite podcasts, Broadway Backstory.
*Photos by Rich Ryan