Sunday, September 11, 2016

reviews - IN THE HEIGHTS - Phoenix Theatre

the cast of In the Heights
photo: Reg Madison Photography
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 2nd.

"...The Tony Award winning Best Musical, In The Heights, premiered this weekend on Phoenix Theatre’s mainstage, and it arrives with such an immediate burst of color, energy and vitality, it’s practically contagious. With principle characters introduced in song by our central character and owner of the small, corner Bodega, Usnavi (Pasha Yamotahari) and joined by the entire, handsome looking ensemble, there’s so much to look at and enjoy as the cast sing, dance and fill the stage from side to side, backed by the live orchestra’s pulsating, percussive rhythms incorporating elements of jazz, salsa and hip-hop under Alan Ruch’s musical direction, there’s an unwelcome sense of deflation once it’s over; you don’t want that opening number to end....Throughout this non-stop, thrilling presentation there’s a continual sense of wanting to leap to your feet at the conclusion of each musical number, just to remind the cast that you’re right there with them. (Director) Robert Kolby Harper's...work here is exemplary. Technical credits...all add to the success of the overall flavor of the show’s Latino setting. It’s only problem is Quiara Alegria Hudes’ book...the events within the three days over a hot July week in the culturally mixed neighborhood seem surprisingly lightweight. Unlike the more sensational aspects regularly depicted ...it’s admirable that here Latino life should be portrayed with a sense of realistic normalcy. ...Yet...the backstory for each character is more interesting than what develops. In the end, what you’ll come away with is...Miranda’s score – he even references Cole Porter, plus those percussive beats, the pulsating rhythm and the trumpet blast at The Club can’t help but faintly echo Bernstein’s Dance at the Gym – all performed with Nick Flores’ fiery choreography; you practically feel the heat....this cast, everyone of them without exception, delivers. A genuine flavor of a principally Latino culture is sustained from the opening moments to the close. ... Usnavi may center your attention but In The Heights is truly an ensemble piece...From the principles to the high-energy of the ensemble support, this is one outstanding cast in a production you’ll long remember. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Before Hamilton brought him worldwide acclaim, Lin-Manuel Miranda (and bookwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes) crafted In the Heights, the tale of a young shop owner who watches and experiences the pain, dreams, pressures, and joys of the courageous people in his Washington Heights neighborhood. The beating heart and vibrant breath of this tight-knit community, as they encounter change and discover what it means to be "home," form the recognizable themes at the center of this Tony winning show. While the characters in "the Heights" may be mostly Latino, Miranda and Hudes' story is universal. Phoenix Theatre's production is just as lively as the musical, with an impressive cast, solid direction, and exciting creative elements that keep the giant heart of the show beating loudly to the score's sensational hip-hop, salsa and merengue beat....Miranda's score features a decent amount of rap, but don't let that scare you off as the score features a wide range of musical styles..and he is a gifted lyricist with a penchant for exceptional, and sometimes very humorous, rhymes. Hudes' book has very little padding which helps move the plot along quickly...This is a show that will resonate with you, no matter what your background or ethnicity is.... Phoenix Theatre's cast is top notch, led by an outstanding Pasha Yamotahari as Usnavi. ...Yamotahari is very good at showing how Usnavi provides compassion to those around him and he also instills a deep close-knit feeling with the cast. His expert facial expressions provide many comical touches and make this out-going, yet shy around women, man someone you truly care about. Johanna Carlisle infuses Abuela Claudia with such humility and empathy that you can't help but fall in love with her and wish that she was your abuela as well. Alyssa Chiarello is a knock-out as Vanessa, Usnavi's love interest. Her gutsy portrayal, terrific singing voice, and sleek dancing skills create an exciting character that makes it very easy to see why Usnavi has fallen for her. As Nina, a young woman who has recently lost her way, Noellia Hernandez does well in showing us how she is somewhat ashamed and no longer proud. She forms a realistic couple with Christopher Brasfield as Benny, whose warm voice provides depth and meaning in his songs....Director Robert Kolby Harper instills the entire production with a pulsating energy that helps infuse the characters with a realness....The vibrant choreography by Nick Flores explodes across the stage...In the Heights... is a true celebration of the sense of community and the deep bond that this unrelated group of individuals has formed. While Phoenix may be over 2,000 miles from Washington Heights, the stories of these individuals who attempt to carry and build upon the dreams of their neighborhood to build a better future for themselves is universal. With lively direction and a superb cast, Phoenix Theater's sophisticated production is exceptional. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"Broadway arrived at Phoenix Theatre with the weekend opening of a smashing staging of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first New York musical, “In the Heights.” ....The insightful and unique musical explores with splashy panache the diverse Mexican-American neighborhood in Manhattan’s Washington Heights....Pasha Yamotahari plays the lead heading a diverse group of local and national performers of multiple ethnicities who effectively evolve into this community’s Hispanic population....Robert Kolby Harper luminously crafted the production...Phoenix Theatre’s intimacy lets the audience become immersed in this dynamic community and the standing ovation opening night was well deserved. The large cast boasts fine performances...Yamotahari executes his character’s accent, movement, and mannerisms flawlessly to create a memorable personality who serves as the area’s unofficial leader even though he just runs the local grocery..Also marvelous is Johanna Carlisle as the community’s matriarch Abuela Claudia....Nina is stunningly portrayed by Noella Hernandez.  Her concerned parents are thoughtfully portrayed by Joseph Micalizio and Micha Espinosa....Christopher Brasfield is sharply engaged as a dispatcher in the Rosario’s struggling taxi business and as Nina’s lover. You will be entertained while learning through this insightful glimpse into this unique New York City community.  --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"... ‘In the Heights...was... the first big Broadway musical to incorporate rap music and one of few to feature a cast dominated by people of color....In many ways, Phoenix Theatre’s production is even more satisfying than the Broadway tour that visited Tempe in 2010. The intimate venue gets you up close and personal with a fine cast as well as with the set...a beautifully rendered re-creation of a corner in the Washington Heights neighborhood...Pasha Yamotahari...stars as Usnavi, a bodega owner who serves as main character and narrator...it’s hard to imagine a more endearing performance...
...Christopher Brasfield’s gorgeous tenor perfectly embodies the confident charm of Benny...Johanna Carlisle shines with both her pipes and her pathos as Abuela Claudia, while Greg Laucella and Lynzee Foreman capitalize on the comic relief of their respective roles, a brash youth and a sassy hairdresser. Take away the accents, the hip-hop and the salsa dancing, and these are all familiar musical-theater characters. ...Strokes of luck and of tragedy arrive at opportune moments, turning the musical into a heaping helping of comfort food and taking the edge off the drama.... “In the Heights” is Miranda’s love letter to New York — to his New York — and Phoenix Theatre’s rendition serves up every ounce of that affectionKerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

"When Lin-Manuel Miranda's IN THE HEIGHTS opened on Broadway in 2008, it accelerated a paradigm shift in musical theatre. The rhyme and rhythm of storytelling found new expression in the meter of hip hop.....In the barrio of Miranda's creation, it is the architecture of people's intersecting lives that are set in bold relief, and it is their passions and dreams that are put to the test: ...(Pasha) Yamotahari is the star of this show, threading together these story lines with a delivery of Miranda's lines that is filled with urgency, intensity, and conviction....Robert Kolby Harper has directed a winner, unleashing an exuberant display of talent and artistry....Mr. Harper and his ensemble have staged a gem and raised the bar high for IN THE HEIGHTS." -Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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