Saturday, November 30, 2013

In The Heights – Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes

By Joe Straw

Casa 0101 and Teatro Nuevos Horizontes present In The Heights Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and directed by Rigo Tejeda as Casa 0101 Theatre in Boyle Heights through December 22, 2013.

I’ve seen this show three times in four years, once a spectacular show at the Pantages, and twice at Casa 0101, all very enjoyable. The set at Casa 0101 is almost the same as last year but has a new coat of paint and looks tremendous.

I want to do something different with this write-up and talk about the actors from the original production first, and then the remaining new cast member from this extremely diverse cast in case Hollywood is listening (or reading).  

Vivian Lamolli plays Daniella one of the owners of the beauty shop who is being forced to leave her salon because the rent is going up.  Lamolli is a stunning actress with a very nice voice giving it her all on stage. All of her numbers work well on stage. There is an element missing.  And that is she is being forced from her home away from home, the salon, and the emotions that accompany that departure.

Chrissi Erickson plays Carla and has shown tremendous growth in the year since I’ve seen the show. Her relationship with her counterparts is solid and she makes the most of her appearance on stage.  She is not the totally ditsy woman from last year but a character with a much stronger objective and her creative choices are superior.   

James Oronoz plays Benny and has also grown into the role. He is much improved, his voice sounding stronger and is maturing into the role. Oronoz has a very good look and does a tremendous job.

Michael Torrenueva reprises the role of Usnavi DeLaVega and is very funny throughout.  But, Torrenueva has lost sight of his objective, or possibly this was an off night for him. The objective is to get home and in the grand scheme of things there should be no diversion from reaching his objective.  Every action on stage should lead him there, starting with the graffiti, the broken refrigerator, the love lost, the blackout, and the lottery ticket.  Also, because he is the storyteller he should make note of all the things going on around him and make most of those moments.   The ending was not a grand moment and like last year I could not hear the final song because the other singers and the band overpowered his voice.  

The newer members of the cast brought fresh life into the show and most were exceptional.

Martica De Cardenas plays Camila Rosario, Nina’s mom. De Cardenas role in this musical is to establish her role in the family as an equal participant and she is heartbroken that her husband has decided to sell the family business without her knowledge. But for De Cardenas she is as angry in the beginning before she finds that her husband has sold the business and therefore her character growth does not take her anywhere. De Cardenas requires additional work to establish a better relationship with her husband during the opening moments of the play.  Still, I did enjoy how it all ended for her and her family.

Valeria Maldonado plays Vanessa this year and had a lot going on. Maldonado has a strong voice and does a great job with her on stage relationships.  But the relationship with her mother, and the people on the phone, needs strengthening because it is all about finding a home, or the opposite, living in the streets.

Luis Marquez plays Kevin Rosario, Nina’s dad, and does a great job. His voice is spot on, and his relationship with his father, his wife, and especially his daughter were all emotionally satisfying and moving.

Veronica Rosa plays Nina and it is the quiet singing moments that show her off best. When she really belts the numbers, competing with the band, or with other singers, it doesn’t work as well. But, her relationship with her mother and father, when she tells them that she quit Stanford, must come as a shock to her, that she is getting this all out in the open.  The back-story is that everyone in the family put in all the hard work to get her to Stanford, and then this? It must be emotionally draining.  And that’s not what we see on stage. Still she is tiny, cute, and adorable and for the most part does a great job.  

Anastasia Silva is too young to be playing Abuela Claudia an elderly woman suffering from age and heat prostration. Still she does a fine job.

Rehyan Rivera plays Sonny and does a nice job but needs to find a stronger and creative objective.  He’s young and doesn’t know where he is going and is asked to do a lot for which he is not qualified.  But how does this all fit with the theme of finding his home?  Well it does, and he must find it to find home. The cute stuff only works when it is line with his objective.

Michael David Romero does a really nice job with Piragua Guy.  He has a lovely voice and is right at home on this stage.  Romero has a strong presence and his work is terrific. But take a little more pleasure in making all of those sales during the blackout. 

Santos Hemenway plays Graffiti Pete and his character is very peculiar, a graffiti artist at night, and someone who hangs around the neighbor during the day.  All the locals know who he is and what he does and they’ve all established a different kind of relationship with him during the day, Usnavi is barely able to have him in the same room. Still, Graffiti Pete should not take his eye off his art the entire time he is on stage.  A blank wall, art, the bridge, art, an awning, art, tennis shoes, art, coffee shop, art, and so on.  And the imaginary paint cans should be his invisible guns in his non-existent holsters as he strolls Washington Heights.

Other member so the cast are Andreas Pantazis (Domingo), Iselle Peña (Yolanda), a very tall Eric Stanton Betts (Jose), Shay Louise (Ensemble), Fernando Nuñez (Ensemble), Jesse Ortiz (Ensemble) Taya Possick (Ensemble) Andrea Somera (Ensemble), Katherine Washington (Ensemble, Oreo).  Olin Tontiuh plays Kevin Rosario as a child as well as Yocani Tonatiuh.

Chala Savino is the alternate for Daniella and did not perform the night I was there.

Rigo Tejeda has some very clever things in this version of In the Heights.  The dancing by Choreographer Daniel Lazareno is better; the little bits on the subway were clever.  But this version loses sight of the strong through line inherent in this musical of going home.  In this version, home seemed to be an afterthought.  “Oh yeah, I get it now.  I’m home.” – Usnavi seems to be saying very casually.  Rather than an accumulated realization that Usnavi is finally home! Home! This is the place I know and this is home! These are the people I know and this is the story I will tell.  Home!  I’m home! Those moments throughout require strengthening to get Usnavi there.

Also, the man sleeping (laying) on the street before the show opened, and at intermission, did nothing for this musical and was a distraction. Nobody wanted to help him, they just thought he was smelly and wanted him off their streets.  It doesn’t work.

The singing in which most of the cast was involved lacked the harmony of last year’s cast and needs work.  The last number needs a lot of work, which requires the co-ordination of the band, the singers, and someone honest enough to hear that it is just not effective, and I think that would be Andrew Orbison, and Rigo Tejeda.  

The purpose of coming back is not to rest on your laurels but to put more into the work into your job and make it that much better.  Also strive to do better than your best and then take a moment to enjoy it when you are finding your way home.  

Run! Find a friend who really loves this show and go.   

Other members of the crew are as follows:

Josefina López  - Founding Artistic Director, Casa 0101 Theater
Abel Alvarado - Artistic Director and Costume Designer
Emmanuel Deleague - Executive Director, Casa 0101 Theater
Edward Padilla - Board President, Casa 0101 Theater
Andrew Orbison - Musical Director
Peter Kirkpatrick - Conductor and Keyboard leading a four-piece live band consisting of a Trumpet, Bass Drums/Percussion
Daniel Lazareno - Choreographer
Tanya Possick - Associate Choreographer
Alysha Bermudez - Sound Designer
Joshua Cuellar - Lighting Designer
Marco De Leon - Scenic Designer
Sohail j. Najafi - Technical Director
Carol Solis - Stage Manager
Gilbert Valenzuela - Production Coordinator
Zoyla Cruz  -Production Assistant
Eric Babb - Prop Master
Vincent Sanchez - Facilities Manager, Casa 0101 Theater
Mark Kraus - Webmaster, Casa 0101 Theater
Gabriela López de Dennis, Soap Design Co. - Graphic Designer
Ed Krieger - Production Photographer
Steve Moyer Public Relations - Press Representative

For tickets, please call the Casa 0101 Theater Box Office at 323-263-7684
E-mail, or buy online at


  1. Having seen the show many times on Broadway and now seeing this production I disagree with many of the more "constructive criticisms" in this review. The vocals were definitely better this year than last and Torrenueva who I understand lost his own Abuela the day before Thanksgiving captivated the role of Usnavi and his objections splendidly. I was moved. I do agree with the smelly homeless guy though.
    Its also poor to make a comment like the one regarding Ana Silva as 'Abuela Claudia'. She may be young but actors turn to this job for the opportunity to play someone different from themselves. She was marvelous her vocal capacity was sensational and my heart warmed for her during her song "Paciencia Y Fe." If I had not seen her headshot walking into the theatre I would have known she was young but the way she carried herself on stage and felt the heat of the barrio made me understand the heat and the pain she felt. Finally I will just add that Nina, Veronica Rosa, in my opinion the best vocalist in the show. Her ability to belt those high notes and do it with a smile on her face half the time blew me away. Her chemistry with Benny, Jimmy Oronoz, was beautiful. I wanted to listen to them all night. Finally, I have never seen someone as tall as Eric Stanton Betts move like that. From his gymnastics to the salsa dancing that was quite the sight.
    BRAVA Casa0101!!!!

  2. Oh and the associate choreographer's name is spelled TANIA. With an "I" its mispelled here twice.

  3. Hmmm, Tanya Possick's name is misspelled twice in the program. Odd, I wonder how I got the name wrong? Tanya or Tania, do you want to chime in?