"In the Heights" is a vibrant, inspirational place to be, where everyone knows your business, and where family and friends have your back.
The Carrnivale Theatrics production at the New Hazlett Theater celebrates the Tony-winning musical's urban flair with a diverse, energetic cast that embodies the striving, kind-hearted residents of a Latino neighborhood in New York City.
The show shakes up musical traditions by opening with an intricate rap-and-dance number Introductions are provided by Usnavi, a young bodega owner with a heart of gold and a not-so-secret crush on the girl next door.
For "In the Heights" to work, you have to connect with Usnavi, a role originated by the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Look-alike Joe Caruncho Jr.'s Usnavi proves an engaging, energetic guide during an eventful Fourth of July.
Director Justin Fortunato and music director Robert Neumeyer have collected a multicultural cast -- including nine Carnegie Mellon University students and five from Point Park -- to unfold the story that centers around budding romance, loyalty and a winning lottery ticket. Usnavi, devoted to Abuela Claudia and his cousin Sonny, pines for sexy Vanessa (Claire Saunders). She has her heart set on an apartment where the bricks are exposed -- on purpose.
'In the Heights'
Carrnivale Theatrics, New Hazlett Theater, North Side.
8 p.m. Thursday-Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday.
$25 or $18 seniors, students, groups; www.showclix.com or 1-888-718-4253.
Returning to their midst is Nina Rosario, the over-achieving daughter of proud business owners Kevin and Camila. Nina has arrived to make a confession: She dropped out of Stanford months earlier because course load and two jobs were too much of a burden. She further upsets her father by hooking up with ambitious Benny, a long-time employee at the Rosario's cab service.
Tensions and romance roil in the summer heat. Throw in a blackout, and the fireworks go beyond the holiday celebration.
Problems with spotty sound detracted from opening night performances, particularly by Marina Pires as Nina. It was a shame to have the sound fade and roar back during her soaring vocals, although the problem was mostly solved by the second act. That was a boon to the chemistry between Ms. Pires and Truman Verret-Fleming as Benny, which worked mostly during their songs together.
For humor and plenty of attitude, there's Amanda Serrano as Daniela, boss of the salon that's about to move to the Bronx. The program relates that she is a licensed hairdresser in New York, and her sass and spark own the spotlight in the big ensemble number, "Carnival Del Barrio." With petite, Bible-quoting sidekick Carla (Marissa Buchheit), she's guilty of stealing every scene she's in. Another welcome presence is Anthony Murphy as the Prigua Guy, selling flavored ice and trying to be a winner in the beat-the-heat game.
Tony Ferrieri's set references the musical's iconic bridge-tower backdrop and promenade steps that spill out into a city street. The claustrophic space doubles as a dance floor for a talented ensemble to show off hip-hop, Latin and traditional moves choreographed by Kiesha Lalama and accompanied by a brassy 12-piece band
There's a lot swirling around this street, but it's a family feud between Nina and her parents, Broadway veteran Tony Chiroldes and Tiffany Dissette, that generates the most heat. They convey the ins and outs of trying to do what's best for their daughter, with the parents' pasts and their own struggles always looming in the emotional mix.
With summer waning and schools awakening around the area, Carrnivale's "In the Heights" pushes back the clock to hot days and nights filled with music and possibilities.
Sharon Eberson: email@example.com or 412-263-1960.