Monthly Archive for: ‘November, 2018’

A winning ambitious In the Heights at Custom Made

In the Heights: Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes. Directed by Nicole Meñez. Musical Direction is by Louis Lagalante. Custom Made Theatre Company, Custom Made Theatre, 533 Sutter St. (at Powell) in San Francisco, CA. (415) 798-2682 or

November 8 – December 15, 2018

A winning ambitious In The Heights at Custom Made Rating: ★★★★☆

Auteur Lin-Manuel Miranda became world famous with his seminal historical hip-hop rap musical Hamilton. That fame was signaled with In The Heights his first musical that began in 1999 when he was still a sophomore at Wesleyan College and hit the Broadway Stage in 2008 earning a Tony Award for Best Original Score. The fame of Hamilton created a great demand to produce In the Heights by professional and regional theaters. The National Touring production was a smash hit at the local Curran Theater in 2010. There had been no regional productions until the always ambitious Custom Made Theater group took up the challenge.

After seeing the spectacular National Touring  show in 2010 trepidations were rampant on the way to the intimate 99 seat Custom Made Theater.  With the exception of a faulty mix of the canned music and lyrics the evening was a success with the intimacy of the stage and audience making the pathos written into the play very personal.

If you are not familiar with the story you may be confused by the relationship of the characters since parts of the dialog are inaudible, peppered with Latino phrases and drowned out by the over exuberant music.

The Heights are Washington Heights in upper Manhattan that is the throes of gentrification.  The population includes mostly Caribbean Hispanics with the major characters from the Dominican Republic. The narrator, Usnavi De La Vega (a forceful Julio Chavez) a young Dominican who dreams of returning to the beaches of his home country runs a small bodega. He introduces us to “The Heights” with a combination of rap-hip-hop “In the Heights” after he has chased away Graffiti Pete (Jepoy Ramos).  Usnavi’s young cousin Sonny (Edwin Jacobs) works in the bodega. Abuela Claudia (Michelle  Navarrete), the barrio matriarch has raised Usnavi since his parents’s death believes that hot blooded Vanessa (Nora Fernandez Doane) will leave the barrio never realizing that Usnavi is in love with her. Vanessa works with sharp tongue Daniella (Mia Romero) and no too bright Carla (Elan Ester) in the Unisex Beauty Salon.

Nina Rosario (Carla Gallardo) daughter of Kevin (Sergio Robeto) and Camila  (Bedalia E. Albanese) has dropped out of Stanford University for financial reasons and has returned to the chagrin of the entire barrio.  Nina and Benny (Derick Weathersby) an African American are the Romeo and Juliet love duet with Kevin vehemently against the relationship.

Throughout the evening thoughts, hopes and fears of each character is beautifully created through Miranda’s superb and ingenious song styles and cogent lyrics. He has captured the heart of the barrio that is “The Heights.”  There is resolution of some of the problems that allows the evening to end on a hopeful note even after evening of vandalism during a blackout and personal animosity has disrupted relationships. The physical damage is easily repaired and the lives in the barrio depend on “Pacienia Y Fe” (Patience and Faith).  One must choose which faith to leave behind and which to embrace.

All the major cast members have their chance to shine and with minor exceptions come through with excellence. An ancillary figure of Piragua Guy (Ernie Tovar) steals the scene with his two turns upon the stage wheeling his colorful shaved-ice wagon and singing in a beautiful baritone voice.

Running time is two hours and 20 minutes with an intermission.

CAST: Usnavi De La Vega Nina, Julio Chavez; Nina Rosario,Carla Gallardo; Kevin Rosario, Sergio Lobito; Camila Rosario, Bidalia E. Albanese; Benny, Dedrick Weathersby; Vanessa, Nora Fernandez Doane; Sonny, Edwin Jacobs; Abuela Claudia, Michelle Navarrete; Daniela, Mia Romero; Carla, Elena Ester; Graffiti Pete, Jepoy Ramos; Piraguera(Piragua Guy), Ernie Tovar.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director/ Choreographer, Nicole Meñez; Music Director,  Louis Lagalante; Scenic Designer, Mara Ishihara Zinky; Costume Designer, Marisely Cortes; Lighting  Designer, Chris Lundahl; Sound Designer, Ella Cooley; Properties Designer, Stephanie Sittbern; Arrangements, Brian Allan Hobbs; Stage Manager, Mandy Kleinert.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of


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