Review: Good Company’s ‘In the Heights’ well worth a visit

"In the Heights" plays through Aug. 27 at Ogden's Good Company Theatre. Photo: GoodCoTheatre.org

OGDEN, Utah, Aug. 18, 2017 (Gephardt Daily) — Just a few chances remain to check out Good Company Theatre‘s “In the Heights,” playing in Ogden through Monday.

The short run is being staged at Ogden’s Amphitheatre, allowing audiences to feel they are sharing the same city air and welcome summer breezes as the characters onstage.

“In the Heights” features characters trying to move forward, but with roots that stretch back to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. They live in New York City’s Washington Heights, a financially poor, culturally rich community where people express their love and conflicts through rap, salsa, old and new music, and lots of dance.

The Tony-winning musical was composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (book by Quiara Alegra Hudes), who won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Hamilton,” in which he starred on Broadway. Although Miranda debut “In the Heights” in 2008, he wrote the first draft as a college sophomore, and the script retains a youthful energy.

Central in the strong ensemble cast is actor Jacob Barnes as Usnavi, owner of a struggling bodega, who struggles to keep his tiny store open, cares for his customers, and harbors a not-too-secret crush on Vanessa (Aalliyah Jenks), who in turn dreams of escaping Washington Heights to live somewhere more promising and respectable.

Barnes employs a nervous energy to play his shy character, but cuts loose when it’s time to expertly rap lyrics that express his dreams and flesh out the storyline. He is a standout who holds the story together. Walters’ Carla is vivacious and impatient for her future to being. The actress disappears into her character perfectly, making her charismatic and fun to watch.

Actress Becca Burdick plays Nina, a local success story who months earlier made it out on a Stanford scholarship, making her parents burst with pride. But Nina returns with a secret, which will have repercussions for her and her parents (actors Stephen Sherman-Mills and Katie Evans).

The family dynamic is tense and authentic, and will make anyone squirm who was ever a parent or child. And watch for Evans’ rendition of “Enough,” an absolute showstopper that brought a reticent character to center stage and made the audience cheer.

Other standout actors include Gray Mckenzie as Benny, one of few African Americans in the community and a longtime employee of Nina’s parents. Benny has dreams of his own, and Mckenzie’s performance leaves no doubt that Benny can make things happen.

Also turning in impressive performances are Pedro Flores as the friendly, opportunistic Sonny; Liz Corona and Erica Walters as Daniela and Carla, the funny and sassy owner and employee of a hair salon; and Tamara Howell as grandma/abuela Claudia, who quietly cares for everyone, subtly binding the community.

Then there’s Dee Tua’one, who labors on the sideline as the piragua guy, a shaved-ice treat vendor. Tua’one reveals the depth of his talent when least expected.

Credit for the strong direction and music direction goes to Austin Archer and Ginger Bess Simons, respectively. The costumes and audio are vibrant. The scaffolding set suggests multiple locations without stealing the show.

The dancing, which is not totally synchronous and shines a light on the varying skill levels in the cast, still adds energy to the show.

All in all, it’s a stellar night of theater under the stars, and a chance to let your mind travel and stretch. Check it out, but do it fast or you will miss your chance. More information, click here.

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