What a way to end the theatre season, Pierce College Theatre! They close out their 2018-2019 season with the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “In The Heights,” with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegría Hudes.
From the creator of the global hit, “Hamilton,” “In The Heights” is the universal story of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood – a place where the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind. We can transport this story to Los Angeles easily.
The Pierce College Theatre “In the Heights” cast, crew and production bring a bit of the NYC to the 818.
The Lin-Manuel style of incorporating lyrics that are witty, spoken word rhymes is not an easy undertaking for the lead role of Usnavy. In this production, Alex Balderas is Usnavy, the story teller that guides us through the history, hopes and imaginations of the neighborhood. With his briskly rippling rap, Alex carries the lyrics to the audience with the right cadence, breath and perfectly timed wit. It was effortless.
Lin-Manuel’s songs are what tell this story so beautifully. Whether it be a flowing story rap, a ballad, a sassy trio, a romantic duet or an upbeat group number, his quick-wit lyrics give us glimpses of life in New York and an insider’s view of this ficticious yet real neighborhood.
When the three hair salon ladies, Daniela (Claudia Rosario Olvera), Vanessa (April Lam) and Carla (Bottara Khan) get together with returning college student Nina (Amy Solano) to dish some chisme, we want to break out the popcorn but instead break out into a smile. They coquettely sing “No Me Diga” (You don’t say) and their harmonies are spot on.
Photo by Lynn Levitt.
“Carnaval del Barrio” was another favorite number. Again, the voices made the audience bop. Daniela (Claudia Rosario Olvera) was the standout in this number with her vocal strength and a beautiful, steady, Mariachi-inspired pitch.
The Piragua man – the shaved ice vendor – (Vincent Macias) had a strong, robust voice that carried the lyrics in a calming wave of warm tone, that transported this audience member to the streets of San Juan on a hot summer night.
“Useless/Inutil” was a number that brought a tear to the eye, sung full heartedly by the papa, Kevin, played by the showman Jeremy Lee. It was a beautifully sung piece on generations of hardworking fathers wanting something better for the next generation. This is the American dream.
Sonny (Nicolas Escalante) is a great actor. His facial expressions, one-liners, use of the stage and theatrical body language is hard to play because playful can become trite. He played the playful pranking, pushy young cousin perfectly.
Photo by Lynn Levitt.
Trevor Alkazian. Remember that name, folks. Trevor plays Benny, the lovable, non-Spanish-speaking hustler who’s in love with his boss’ daughter, and he plays the role with such ease that we believe Trevor is Benny, that he’s in love with Nina. The moment the enterprising Trevor/Benny sets foot on stage, his charisma takes over, but effortlessly. You don’t learn stage presence, you’re born with it. Trevor is an instinctual actor and he’s also a phenomenal singer. He has a stunningly beautiful voice with a wide range and enchanting tone that “you could listen to all day,” said the person sitting next to me. He switches easily from a rap to a high note, a dance move to a scene with the boss, a group number to a love duet. His timing was spot on and I don’t see him doing anything else but being on Broadway. Bravo.
Hats off to director Shaheen Vaaz for the great use of the stage and props on the detailed set designed by Gene Putnam. Her director’s notes capture her efforts: “This is a show I wanted everyone to feel as welcome as possible in this neighborhood…” Claps must go to Dr. Garineh Avakian for the amazing vocal direction accompanied by the Pierce College Orchestra conducted by Dr. Wendy Mazon.
The entire cast was full of strong singers – Vanessa (April Lam), Camila (Brenda Garcia), Abuela Claudia (Christine Avila), Nina (Amy Solano) and the ensemble.
For those who haven’t seen Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway debut musical, “In the Heights,” now’s your chance, while supporting theatre at our local college.
There is something joyful about being entertained live, surrounded by folks smiling at words and music written by a stranger and then sung beautifully by others who become our friends for that two-act musical. The “In the Heights” takeaway is simply: yes we can, with a little paciencia y fe…patience and faith.
6201 Winnetka Ave.
Woodland Hills, 91371
April 26 – May 5
Thursday – Saturday at 8PM, Sunday at 2PM
Saturdays at 8PM
The cast features principals Trevor Alkazian, Christine Avila, Alex Balderas, Aro Caitlin, Tara Cox, Nic Escalante, Brenda Garcia, Asia Herbison, J.J. Javier, Bottara Khan, April Lam, Jeremy Lee, Sonny Lira, Claudia Rosario Olvera, Amy Solano, Julianne Sillona and Kristine Sallona.
The ensemble includes Dominique Alburo, Destiny Cable, Melaney Garcia, Javier Lopez, Nicolas La Salle, Vincent Macias, Eddie Rios, Eric Rodriguez, Patricia Ruiz, Joyanne Tracey and Jacob Villapando.
Director Shaheen Vaaz Choreography by Brian Moe
Vocal direction by Dr. Garineh Avakian
Dr. Wendy Mazon conducts the Pierce College Orchestra
Scenic design by Gene Putnam
Costume design by Eileen Gizienski
Lighting design by Michael Gend
Sound design by DJ Medina
Stage manager: Michelle Sanchez is the stage manager
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