Despite a distance of 3,000 miles a New York City neighborhood shares a lot of similarities with communities in Silicon Valley.
I would know since I’m from Washington Heights, the neighborhood the new production of the Palo Alto Players In The Heights is based on.
In The Heights focuses on the traditionally immigrant neighborhood of Northern Manhattan and the American dream that at one point brought Irish, Jews and then Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominicans to live there.
Silicon Valley, and in particular Palo Alto, has that same attraction—dreams so big that students, engineers, even restaurant and domestic workers—leave their homelands for a chance to become more successful than their parents could ever have imagined.
However, sometimes in dreaming we lose our way or become a little frustrated —now who in Palo Alto hasn’t experience some failure?
Well there’s no failure for the Palo Alto Players In The Heights cast as they superbly captured the essence of their fiery Latin characters.
Though San Jose resident Rudy Fuentes, who played the main male lead Usnavi, lacked a little energy to open the performance he eventually gained it all back and then some. Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the show, would be proud.
South San Francisco’s Alexa Ortega’s angelic voice made you fall in love with her and her performance of Nina—whose dream was to attend Stanford, but working and keeping up with school caused her to fall behind and eventually leave school. Ortega’s future looks promising.
San Mateo’s Jai Taylor, who played the sassy Vanessa, acted and sounded nearly as great as original cast member Karen Olivo. Taylor reminded me of every tough New Yorker I know and I hope to see more of her on stages across the country.
Another standout star is without a doubt Los Altan Linda Piccone for her portrayal of the matriarch Abuela Claudia. Her powerful voice in “Paciencia y Fe” filled the theater and entered deep into our bones. She was absolutely excellent and she received the loudest applause of the entire performance.
David Leon, a Santa Clara resident, played the role of Nina’s father Kevin Rosario. I’ve seen In The Heights three times on Broadway and I think David’s portrayal has been my favorite. He rocked it during his solo of “Inutil.”
Also standouts were Vanessa Alvarez (Daniela), Lucy Duran (Hillsborough) and Brian Conway (Sonny).
Unfortunately difficulties with the audio sullied the enjoyment of a production where clear, crispy sounds needed to prevail.
For this reason, I’m a little less enthused about the performances of Santa Clara’s Dimitri Woods (Benny) and Mountain View’s Sasha Motalygo (Camila). During Motalygo’s solo her wireless microphone lost most of its audio, and while her voice projected it couldn’t fill the theatre. And as hard as Woods tried to be audible, either his microphone or his lack of enunciation made it difficult to understand him.
The Lucie Stern’s stage presented a few challenges, which scenic designer Patrick Klein and choreographer Robyn Tribuzi flawlessly overcame. Compared to the original Broadway set, this one was much more modest but just as authentic to the neighborhood.
And In The Heights isn’t just about singing. It’s about dancing too so wherever there was space Hip-Hop and salsa filled it.
“We tried to remain strict to the choreography and worked really hard to make sure the staging was compact and concise to the original movements,” said ensemble cast member and dance Yuliya Eydelnant from San Jose. (Watch Patch’s interview with Eydelnant post-show.)
Audience members could be heard commenting that the show “would be really good with a professional cast.” Others also noted the audio problems too.
But most enjoyed the performance of this modern musical.
“I lived the choreography a lot. It was very creative,” said Jen Ellington a Menlo Park resident who teaches in Palo Alto. But she also related to the theme. “It’s a current story. It’s a story that happens all of the time.”
In The Heights continues at the Lucie Stern Theatre until Sept. 29. For more information visit www.paplayers.org.