‘In the Heights’ brings life in Big Apple to CCA

"In the Heights" put on a shot that many thought was exceptional. Featuring hip-hop, jazz, ballroom and ballet-style dancing, the musical was one that wasn't your average show. Photo courtesy of http://4.bp.blogspot.com/

The Clayton Center of the Arts hosted a different kind of show on Nov. 19.

The frequent theatre-goer or musical fan would have sat in shock at the exceptionally modern and untraditional musical that was performed in the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theatre that evening during “In the Heights.”

The show was comprised of a culmination of hip-hop, jazz, ballroom and ballet-style dancing, with a significantly crude and rough style that is unusual for traditional musicals.

While it was evident that many of the dancers in the chorus were offbeat and struggling performing in the new space of the Nutt stage, the obviously versatile and skilled dancers presented a medley of technique and styles of dancing, best showcased in the number “The Club/Fireworks” at the end of the Act I. This scene combined intensive salsa dancing and hip-hop moves with hints of jazz and ballet. The variety of dancing was surprisingly dynamic and diverse.

The score was similarly composed to the choreography, drawing on a rough rap style for most of the pieces, as well as showcasing a few conventional Broadway-type numbers.

Usnavi, played by actor Perry Young, shined in his hip-hop style solos. He sang with true soul so that, even though at times the words of the songs were not interpretable to the audience, the emotion of his pieces was still successfully conveyed.

Additionally, Nina, played by the young, budding star Virginia Cavaliere, stole the spotlight with her show-stopping, more traditional Broadway songs.  After her song, “Breathe,” the audience roared with applause at her sweet, yet strong, soprano voice.

The setting as the curtains came up displayed a realistic-looking downtown area of Washington Heights in New York City. The George Washington Bridge was printed largely on the backdrop, and the buildings on the set were realistically detailed. A balcony was at the top of each building, which proved to be ideal spaces for actors, as many songs took place on the balconies.

However, the compactness of the set seemed to make it difficult for some actors and dancers to function properly onstage.

Several times actors bumped into the side curtains of the stage, making the curtains sway, completely interrupting the audience’s suspension of disbelief.

The lighting was also incredibly impressive, with motley colors and flashing effects during the climatic, “Fireworks” scene that concluded Act 1.
One of the spotlights was a little delayed in focusing on the actors onstage, however, and proved distracting in scenes in which a particular actor was featured singing a solo or saying something important.

By the middle of Act II, a distinct lull grew over the audience as the members could practically guess what was going to occur next within the show.

While a heartwarming play, “In the Heights” became a bit clichéd as Nina argued with her parents about wanting to be with her true love, Benny, played by Presliah Nunez, and Abuela Claudia died directly after winning the lottery.

However, the great opportunity provided by the CCA did not go unappreciated.

A large group of students and community members alike came to view the Broadway performance.

There were mixed reviews after the show.

“I thought it had a wonderful storyline and really unified ensemble,” said Daniel Noles, a freshman theatre major. “It reminded me of ‘Rent,’ because practically the entire story is sung.”

Rachel Jarnigan, a sophomore sociology major, admitted that she “didn’t expect so much rap, honestly.”

“I liked the hip-hop dancing, but it was really unexpected,” she said.

Other students also enjoyed the show’s unique blend of music and dance styles.

“I thought the infusion of Latin American traditions and music with the slam poetry-type rapping that Usnavi did is a cool mix of modern music and culture,” mused John-Cole Kirksey, sophomore engineering major. “I also liked that we got a look into the lives of people who don’t live [downtown], because that’s where we think when someone says NYC.”

Emily Queen, a junior theatre major, said:“I was not impressed. I am not a fan of the music style, and the acting space was way too tiny.”

All in all, “In the Heights” showcased an exceptionally talented ensemble of vocalists and dancers, with a storyline revolving around citizens of Washington Heights who are simply finding ways to cope with the struggles of poverty, family and love, providing the audience a look into Hispanic culture along the way.

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