Ryan Reyes (far left) and the company of the Rubicon Theatre Company production of In the Heights.
by Shirley Lorraine
Musical Highlights Life in a Barrio
Rubicon Theatre Company’s current production of Lin-Manual Miranda’s In the Heights is an absolute must-see. The fast-paced operetta is packed with non-stop action, tight, acrobatic dancing and engaging characters.
A multi-leveled challenging production to mount, the quality of this Rubicon offering is as high as any Broadway show. From the opening notes to the end, the production offers an upbeat picture of the stark realities of life in a depressed neighborhood, struggles to maintain dignity and overcome pitfalls as well as the enduring positivity of relationships, hope and redemption.
Usavi (Ryan Reyes) runs a small bodega in Washington Heights. Along his street are a beauty salon, a car service and residences of long standing. All the businesses are barely getting by, but the joy of the residents pervades the neighborhood. There are romances, ongoing dilemmas, humor and a few surprises laced throughout. Author Miranda has drawn on his own background to create a world foreign to many of us Californians. However, there is universality in the situations portrayed that embrace and touch everyone in some way.
Although a good deal of the dialogue and lyrics are in a mixture of what the play refers to as Puerto-Rican Spanish and Dominican Spanish, it not difficult to ascertain the meanings involved. The panoply of emotions run deep and are clearly conveyed.
There are many strong voices in this large cast, most beautifully heard when the orchestra allows the vocalists to shine in quieter moments. The rapid pace of the lyrics is a marvel to hear as the actors barrel forward without missing a single beat or step. I could not catch some of the lyrics due to the pace, but the meanings were clear throughout. The lead character, Usavi, embodied by Ryan Reyes, is simply mesmerizing as he weaves the story thread along.
This is a production I could see multiple times and each time see something different as a focal point. Each character is singularly well defined yet universal. Standout performances are given across the board from the smallest ensemble role to the leads.
Bringing extremely strong characterizations to the story are Laura Lebron, Corinne Miller, Jalon Matthews, Luis-Pablo Garcia, Danny Bolero, Laura Castrillon, Susan Oliveras, Suzanna Guzman, Jeffrey Nunez, Yan Carlos Diaz and Mariana Herrera Juri. Their stories are complex, completing the neighborhood’s saga.
Director/Choreographer Luis Salgado has brought his considerable talents to our community by which we are enriched beyond measure. Salgado was Assistant Choreographer for the Tony-Award winning In the Heights on Broadway and Director/Choreographer for a production of same in Washington, D.C. for which he garnered several awards. The use of the entire cast as enhancing movement background on multiple levels of the impressive street setting is fresh and exciting.
Rubicon Theatre has presented outstanding, challenging productions that have benefitted our community for 25 years. This production of In the Heights ranks right up there towards the top.
In the Heights runs through November 13 with many afternoon and evening options to choose from. www.rubicontheatre.org. Get tickets before they are sold out.