Friday, September 13, 2013

In the Heights at Walnut Street Theatre #funforFriday

Oh I was so lucky this Wednesday night to be invited to see the opening of Walnut Street Theatre's production of In the Heights. It was truly phenomenal.

Now this post is not sponsored, but I am a little biased, as my fellow Motherhood: the Musical girl was letting her light shine through the whole production in the role of Daniela. And it was a little mini reunion for us as our other castmate took me to the show.  You know, that one who dances for her life and wrote a fabulous little guest post for me a few weeks back?
Donnie and her proud "mama's"
I really can't say enough good things about this production. As always, the Walnut does a fantastic job of bringing a huge Broadway feel to the sets, lighting, music, performances, and direction. You would never think of it as "Regional Theater." This is a FULL production. You don't know whether to focus left, right, up or down; there is so much going on. It is a Broadway house that is located in Center City Philadelphia. I remember when I first moved to NYC I already knew instinctively what an important gig it was to 'get the Walnut.' It is an institution.
Donnie Hammond (Daniela), Ceasar Barajas (Graffiti Pete), and Piragua Guy Carlos Lopez
What was surprising to me, however, was the beauty of the story and the music. I didn't know the show before going to see it, and all I had heard was that it was 'rap, hip-hop-based' music, and this does not quite do it justice at all.

The rapping is very sing-songy, almost like an Eminem song, and there is a lot of R & B and Latin flavors mixed in. You would almost feel like getting up and dancing along, like when going to see a show like Mamma Mia, even though you might not know these tunes. You feel like you know them.

There are two love stories and there is the over-arching story of life in Washington Heights for a Bodega owner, a Salon owner, and an owner of a taxi/limo service. There are some vignettes when you see the lives of these individuals, and then big-blow-up moments when the entire cast is 'out on the street' dancing and illustrating the vibrancy of the neighborhood life. It has some flavors of West Side Story mixed in with Rent. I was incredibly touched by the solo of the father (played by Danny Bolero) talking about wanting a better life for his daughter, who had a chance of getting 'out' of the neighborhood by getting into Stanford. And no one can resist loving the Abuela (grandmother, played by Rayanne Gonzales), who is the nurturing and loving caregiver for the entire neighborhood; so she is everyone's "Abuela." But the best, most fun, moments for me was when Daniela (played by Donnie Hammond), whom you could sense was coming into Center Stage before she even got there, brought out her larger-than-life portrayal of the neighborhood 'gossip' type and turned the party atmosphere up ten notches. Her number "Carnaval" had me wanting to rush the stage. It was pure celebration.

Ultimately what truly transported me was Usnavi (played by Perry Young.) He is the central character/Bodega owner and narrator of his own life who draws you into his insecurities and humble nature. I have to admit, half the time I was just wondering how he was able to hit all of his music cues and the Music Director follow his, because the intricacy of the beats and hip-hop nature of the singing was half recitative and half spoken word. And yet you hear every joke, detail, and emotional response. And then you pull yourself out of your musician head and realize that you are involved in this character and want him to 'win.' Great performance.

Well I won't babble at you anymore about it, go see it! And here is a highlight reel in case you need more convincing:

It runs until October 20.
Get tix here.

Happy Friday! 
Have you seen any shows lately that transported you?

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