By David C. Nichols
10:00 AM PST, December 3, 2013
“In the Heights” is currently irradiating Casa 0101, where it fits as felicitously as cinnamon in café con leche. This galvanic chamber edition of the 2008 Tony winner about the denizens of a Washington Heights barrio has enough heartfelt energy to alleviate a citywide power outage.
That registers at the outset, as bodega-owning hero Uznavi (an assured Michael Torrenueva) launches the infectious title number and gets our toes tapping. His full-voiced neighbors join in, leaving the house ablaze.
Credit composer-lyricist (and original Uznavi) Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose rap, salsa and show tune-centric score conveys considerable wit and character despite some conventional passages.
Indeed, the numbers drive the story more than Quiara Alegría Hudes’ television-weight libretto, which crams intercultural romance, thwarted generational dreams, urban blight and a winning lottery ticket into a serviceable but overpopulated scenario.
This matters little since director Rigo Tejeda, choreographer Daniel Lazareno De Dios, musical director Andrew Orbison, a red-hot band and some resourceful designers keep it unpretentiously honest, and the terrific cast follows suit.
Besides Torrenueva’s appealing protagonist, Valeria Maldonado as his not-that-secret crush, Veronica Rosa and James Oronoz’s culture-clashed lovers and Martica De Cardenas and Luis Marquez’s hardscrabble parents exhibit vivid, Broadway-worthy talents.
Anastasia Silva is clearly too young for pivotal Abuela Claudia, but she goes for broke, as do her colleagues, with particular standouts in Rehyan Rivera’s cocky cousin, Michael David Romero’s soaring piragua vendor and the priceless salon tag-team of Vivian Lamolli and Chrissi Erickson.
Inhaling the songs and face-offs, hurling themselves into De Dios’ sizzling moves, everyone’s fervor produces the most effective small-scale take on a big show since “Dreamgirls” at the MET and “Color Purple” at the Celebration. It would be loco to miss it.
Bette Midler eats up her turn as Mengers, heading to the L.A. stage
“In the Heights,” Casa 0101 Theater, 2102 E. 1st. St., Boyle Heights. 8 p.m. Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Ends Dec. 22. $20-$25. (323) 263-7684 or www.casa0101.org. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.
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