Vintage Theatre musical driven by Latin beat
As lights at Vintage Theatre go up, Usnavi (Alejandro Roldan) is front and center of his little corner of Washington Heights, where we see his bodega, Rosario’s taxi service and Daniela’s beauty shop. An outline of the Brooklyn Bridge is at the rear.
He raps about his neighborhood and the folks who live there — and serves sweet, hot café con leche to get the day started.
It’s Fourth of July weekend and infectious background music soon has everyone dancing to a happy Latin-pop score.
“In the Heights,” in its first local production, was written by Lin-Manuel Miranda as a college project to begin with, with book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. It won a Best Musical Tony in 2008, as well as Best Score and Best Choreography.
Director Rebecca Joseph makes her directorial debut in Denver, although she has been stage manager and assistant director in the area. She writes that when rights became available, she began searching for the first production, made an agreement with artistic director Craig Bond of Vintage and found actors who were as enthusiastic as she was about the piece.
Parallel stories involve beloved Abuela Claudia (Marisa Dannielle Hebert), who more or less raised the orphaned Usnavi and good-natured cousin Sonny (Carlos Jimenez) who helps with the bodega. Kevin and Camila, who run the taxi business and their assistant Benny, who raps as he talks with drivers and falls in love with their daughter Nina, who has been at Stanford. (Since he’s not Latino, he’s not acceptable to the parents — another storyline.)
Usnavi is interested in glamorous Vanessa, whose dream is an apartment of her own in a better part of town. Singer Janessa O’Fallon brings a great voice to her theater debut as Vanessa.
Weaving through the action and ongoing dancing is tagger Graffiti Pete, a rubber-jointed Asad Clifton.
Choreographer is Matt LaFontaine who has appeared onstage recently as the emcee in “Cabaret” and Berger in “Hair.”
The ladies in the hair salon next door — moving out because of high rent — make another colorful vignette with gossip, song and dance.
While there are some stressful moments, the general effect is joyous and warm. One loses track of the story on occasion with so much going on, but the production is just so pleasant to watch, that you figure it out later.
In the end, Usnavi, who has been contemplating a return to the Dominican Republic with Abuela, proclaims “I’m home!”
Midge McMoyer Smith, the keyboard-playing music director was joined by a live band, including the trumpets needed for the salsa and merengue rhythms in this most enjoyable score.