A Zesty ‘In the Heights’ at the Woodlawn Theatre

In the Heights, the debut musical by Hamilton wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda, comes to the Woodlawn Theatre in an enthusiastically performed and colorful production.

Lisa Decker plays Vanessa and Miguel Ochoa is Usnavi in In the Heights, now playing at the Woodlawn Theatre.

Conceived by Miranda with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, In the Heights is essentially a collection of multi-character vignettes woven together to form the story of immigrant residents of a Latino neighborhood in Washington Heights.

The challenges they face are familiar — economic hardships, relationship woes, family dynamics and the ever-present threat of gentrification. The stories are all narrated by Usnavi De La Vega (Miguel Ochoa), who harbors dreams of returning to his family home in the Dominican Republic.

Although In the Heights is rather by-the-numbers from a story standpoint, the piece is prevented from dissolving into a total soap opera thanks to sharply observed lyrics and welcome comedy relief. And the Woodlawn’s cast is first-rate.

Ochoa is terrific as he takes the role originally performed by Miranda. Hernandez is also fine as the world-weary Abuela Claudia, delivering a touching version of “Paciencia y Fé (Patience and Faith).” Lisa Decker is fine as the ambitious Vanessa, Usnavi’s secret obsession and Michael Parisi brings manic energy to the role of Sonny, Usnavi’s cocky, 16-year-old cousin.

Melissa Gonzalez is a hoot as the gossip-prone and wildly overdramatic beauty salon owner, Daniela. The other cast members inhabit their characters with skill, including Michael J. Gonzales and Victoria Nieves as the bickering cab company owners, Kevin and Camila Rosario; Jillian Sainz as their daughter, Nina; and Venny Mortimer as Benny, the non-Latino employee of the cab company who falls for Nina — much to her parents’ chagrin. Their performances are supported by an excellent ensemble cast.

The impressively tall set by Benjamin Grabill, sound design by Benjamin Farrar and lighting by Matt Smith give this production the desired Broadway-quality sheen. Andrew Hendley’s eight-piece orchestra performs the Tony-winning score with verve, handling a variety of musical styles, including salsa, pop, rap and show-stopping ballads. Carla Sankey’s choreography is also well-executed, and the whole production is solidly helmed by Tim Hedgepeth.

In the Heights plays Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through May 5 at the Woodlawn Theatre, 1920 Fredericksburg Road. Reservations can be made online or by calling (210) 267-8388.

Feature photo (l-r): Lisa Decker, Melissa Gonzalez, Jilian Sainz and Amy Mirales (credit: Siggi Ragnar).

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