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“IN THE HEIGHTS”
By “SCU Presents,” Receives an Standing Ovation
By Iride Aparicio
                                    
Photos courtesy of:  SCU Presents  

The Cast of SCU production of “IN THE HEIGHTS”

 

The Cast of SCU production of “IN THE HEIGHTS”

SANTA CLARA, CA – Originally nominated for thirteen Tony Awards ®  in the year 2008, and the winner of four for “Best Original  Score,” “Best Choreography, and “Best Orchestrations,  the Rap musical  “IN THE HEIGHTS,” with music and lyrics by MANUEL MIRANDA  and book by QUIARA ALEGRÍA, is a story with the magic to  transport us, vicariously, to Washington Heights, a neighborhood in New York City, which is “home” to the Dominican Americans, Borinqueños, and Cuban Americans who live there.

It is an unpretentious part of  the city, a block where on our left  at the  bottom of a two story house, there is a dispatcher’s office by the name of  “Rosario’s Cars and Limousines.”  On its top, a three windows apartment, occupied  by Claudia, a Cuban woman, that because of her advanced age, everybody  calls “Abuela” (grandmother). Living in the same apartment, is Usnavi, a young man from the Dominican Republic that “Abuela” raised as her own son when his parents passed away.   

Across the street, from the Abuelas’s house, in the corner, is Usnavi’s Deli’s Store. Next door,  a Unisex Salon. On its top floor apartment, the apartment of Benny, an African American man who was raised as a son by the Rosario family and now works as dispatcher in Rosario’s office. If we look straight at the street, we can see part of the  Brooklyn Bridge.

L’R MAX JENNINGS as Kevin Rosario, CLAUDIA SCHUMANN as his wife Camila, DREW KEMP as benny & KALINA VENUGOPAL as Nina
L’R MAX JENNINGS as Kevin Rosario, CLAUDIA SCHUMANN as his wife Camilla, DREW KEMP as Benny & KALINA VENUGOPAL as Nina

The story explores three days in the lives of the characters which are: 
The Rosario family: Kevin Rosario (MAX JENNINGS)  the owner of the Car Rental, who in spite of being called “inútil” (good for nothing) repeatedly by his father when he was a boy,  turned out to be a hard working man who wants to provide the best to his family. He started working at the age of nine, when he built a wooden box and using grounded coffee beans and an old cloth, went to the street and began shining shoes at the Plaza Arecibo in Puerto Rico. At the end of the day, he had earned thirty five cents, which he used to buy shoe shine wax and began shinning shoes.  

Camilla, (CLAUDIA SCHUMANN) who also works as dispatcher in his business is his wife and Nina (KALINA VENUGOPAL) is their daughter.   Nina won an scholarship to go to Stanford University in Palo Alto, and is studying there. Because she is the first one in the “Barrio” to attend college, she is admired by  everybody.  And  "part of the family" is Benny (DREW KEMP) who was raised by the Rosario family as a son, and now works as dispatcher in their office. What the the Rosarios don’t know about Benny, is that he had been in love with Nina since they were children and that he dreams to open a Dispatcher Business of his own and marry Nina when she graduates from college.


L-R SANDRA HENSCHKE, as “Abuela,” KALINA VENUGOPAL as nina, DOMINIC M. LEWIS as Usnavi & THEODORE ADAMS  as Sonny
L-R SANDRA HENSCHKE, as “Abuela,” KALINA VENUGOPAL as Nina, DOMINIC M. LEWIS as Usnavi & THEODORE ADAMS  as Sonny

Other characters living in the neighborhood are :  “Abuela Claudia” (SANDRA HENSCHKE), who belongued to the Hitgh Society in Cuba, but "was forced" to work as  maid in New York for many years ago because she could not speak English. She survived her ordeal with patience and faith.

Usnavi  de La Vega (DOMINIC MICHAEL LEWIS) is from Santo Domingo. He was born in New York but his dream is to go back to that city. When his parents were sailing  from the Dominican Republic to New York, and his mother was pjregnants, his father saw a U.S. Navy ship and he liked the name so much that called their son Usnavi. His parents owned a store, which he inherited when both died years later.   

Sonny (THEODORE ADOPHUS ADAMS,  IV) is Usnavi’s cousin. He is a lazy boy but he helps Usnavi in the store.  Next door, there are three beauticians from the Unisex Salon:

L-R NAOMI EVANS as Vanessa,  REGINA VICTORIA FIELDS as Daniela RACHEL BOVÉ as Carla & KALINA VENUGOPAL as Nina (sitting down)
L-R NAOMI EVANS as Vanessa,  REGINA VICTORIA FIELDS as Daniela RACHEL BOVÉ as Carla & KALINA VENUGOPAL as Nina (sitting down)

Daniela, (REGINA VICTORIA FIELDS) is the owner, and the beauticians are Vanessa (NAOMI EVANS) a beautiful popular girl that Usnavi is is love with, and Carla (RACHEL BOVÉ) who calls  herself Newyorican, because she was born in New York , but her family is from Puerto Rico.

The musical begins with everybody dancing. CAMERON WELLS, crying "piraguas" trying to sell his Piraguas (a Dominican smoothie-like drink made out of different fruits) Graffiti Pete KYLE VAN ZANTEN, trying to spray-paint over the walls of Usnavi’s Deli, and Usnavi telling the audience his story in song sd the three beaitocians from the UNISEX Salon fill cardboard boxes because the Salon is moving to another neighborhood.

The problem begins when Nina (VENUGOPAL) returns to the neighborhood from Stanford University in California and  tells her parents  “a secret” that changes everything.

The Story, which includes a big Lotery win,  is very human. It is told mostly in  songs, and it moves fast. In this production which includes many dance numbers like a wonderful fire crackers display during the 4th of July, and songs such as “No me diga,” a gossiping song wonderfully sang by the three beauticians, “Carnaval del Barrio”  with everybody dancing, and many more, it really moves. We should mention that the musicians in the orchestra are excellent and all the dancers in the cast are great dancers.

On Saturday May 28th, the production, was good, but needed more feeling. Usnavi. LEWIS, who played the role acted his part well, sang well, and he is a good dancer, but on that night, his Usnavi lacked warmth. Another role that needed  feeling was the role of HENSCHKE as “Abuela,” specially when singing “Paciencia y Fe” in her tuneful voice. Also to impersonate her character realistically, HENSCHKE could have needed to add physically attributes to give age her character. Maybe, to slump her back as she walked, or walking with a cane, or moving very slowly around the stage to show the audience her “age”.

All actors acted well, sang with good voices and  danced synchronized, but there were some that we would like to mention because they did something better than the rest. One of them was JENNINGS who acted the role of Kevin Rosario. On that night, JENNINGS gave the audience a realistic portrayal of a caring father, willing to sacrifice his own dreams to keep his daughter’s dream alive. He played his role so well that he managed  to make the audience feel each one of his emotions even when saying ith something simple as a dispatcher’s announcement to all his taxis. His pausing was perfect when he asks them to drive slowly, because Doña Claudia had passed away at noon, on that day. When singing, in a well-tune voice, he gave the audience a masterful interpretation of “Inútil.”

Camilla (SCHUMAN) was also convincing in her acting role as mother. Her “Enough” in which apparently for the first time,she rebels to her husband, was well sang. Nina (VENUGOPAL) was convincing as Nina. She has a beautiful timbre in her voice and she used well on that night. Her Sunrise and her When the Sun Goes down Her duet with Benny sounded beautiful
Another good performance, in acting, singing, and dancing, was given by Danielle, (REGINA VICTORIA FIELDS) as the owner of the Salon, Her “No me Diga”  trio, with EVANS and BOVÉ was well sang and very funny. In her acting, she showed feeling as she changes from  dictatorial boss to caring person when she decides to give a “reference” to  Vanessa. 

A good characterization of his role was also given by KEMP who represented a very realistic Benny, asking Mr. Rosario, with respect, to let him date Nina And we cannot forget to mention CAMERON WELLS who made his Piragüero role, memorable that night with his charm.

One of the many dances of “IN THE HEIGHTS”
                  One of the many dances of “IN THE HEIGHTS”

We could add that Director KIMBERLY MOHNE HILL, Musical Director JESSE SANCHEZ and Choreographer PAULINE LOCSIN-KANTER and their staff, deserve credit for managing to present to the audience on that night a professional performance of “IN THE HEIGHTS.”