Tech Week for the Upper School Musical this year was threatened by some heavy snowfall and a variety of cold weather ailments. The possibility of school shutting down on Thursday due to the snow threw several cast members into a panicked frenzy. People were falling sick and some Tech Crew members had to drop out of the show as a result. Thankfully, most of us pulled through the week unscathed. SIA’s production of In the Heights was a success, the kind that occasionally brings tears to your eyes but mostly makes you want to dance and sing.
In the Heights is unlike any musical we’ve done in the past few years – and in a good way. While I loved How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying and Mame, it was nice to work on a show that takes place in this century. I also appreciated the fact that we told a story that empowers and celebrates immigrants, those underrated people who identify with more than one nation, speak more than one language fluently, and understand that making a dramatic move from one corner of the world to another is a step that never goes out of style. Often, they started with nothing in this country but chased the American dream anyway. Sounds a lot like my parents. My friends’ parents. Probably your parents or grandparents too.
The story is set in Washington Heights, New York, featuring the interwoven lives of multiple characters. Their community is changing irrevocably as gentrification forces many people to sell their small businesses and move out of the neighborhood.
A central figure in el barrio is Abuela Claudia – she is the grandmother and guiding star of everyone in the community. One of the show’s most moving scenes is when Usnavi, the bodega shop owner and narrator of In the Heights, announces Abuela Claudia has passed away. The entire neighborhood gathers around her door to honor the life she lived. It is a moment that feels real and sadly familiar.
“Abuela Claudia had simple pleasures / she sang the praises of things we ignore / glass Coke bottles, bread crumbs, a sky full of stars / She cherished these things / She’d say ‘Alabanza’ / Alabanza means to raise this thing to God’s face and to sing / quite literally, ‘praise to this’” – Usnavi, Alabanza
Many of us have someone like Abuela Claudia in our lives. Many of us have experienced the loss of someone like her. In the end, we can only celebrate and honor the lives that have touched us – they always brought light to the darkest moments. Alexa Fodera ’16 gave a strong and moving performance as Abuela Claudia. Her interpretation of the show’s most important (and difficult to perform) role was one to remember.
John H. ’16 did a terrific job portraying Kevin Rosario, who sells his car service to finance his daughter Nina’s college tuition. John’s solo “Inutil” made me cry the first time I heard it during rehearsal. These simple lyrics overwhelmed me because they sounded exactly like something my own father would say:
“I will not be the reason that my family can’t succeed / I will do what it takes / They’ll have everything they need/ or all my work, all my life / everything I’ve sacrificed will have been useless” – Kevin Rosario, Inutil
Sophomores Alice G. ’17, Jahir H. ’17, and Yvonne B. ’17 also gave stunning performances. The three were so fun to watch onstage and their voices stole the show. Alice, starring as Vanessa, captured her character’s vulnerability and nuances perfectly – her big solo, “It Won’t Be Long Now,” was one of my favorite moments in the show. Her voice soared with the lyrics:
“As I sweep the curb, I can hear those turbo engines blazing a trail through the sky / I look up and think about the years gone by / But one day, I’m walking into JFK and I’m gonna fly away!” – Vanessa, It Won’t Be Long Now
Senior Danielle W. ’15 shined onstage starring as Nina Rosario, who took a leave of absence from school after struggling through her first year at Stanford. Danielle’s big solo, “Breathe,” sounded lovely, as well as her duets with Nina’s love interest Benny, played by Jahir H. Jahir tackled his role with a ton of energy – along with some great dance moves.
Alex V. ’15 played Nina Rosario’s mom, Camila, convincingly well – even her costume was the most realistic. She did a fantastic job of bringing powerful emotion (and motherly exasperation) to her solo, “Enough.” Claire C. ’15 as Carla brought a dash of humor to the production with her memorable lines, “What would Jesus do?” and “Doesn’t it feel good to spread Jesus’ love?” Her onstage banter with Yvonne’s character, Daniela, was hysterical.
Speaking of memorable lines, Graffiti Pete, played by Trip M. ’17, walks away with the prize for Best Sales Pitch: “Yo, what up? Buy my t-shirt!” The aforementioned t-shirt was a hideous gray thing that looked like it had been stained with strawberry-kiwi Trix yogurt. Chris C. ’16 and Ryan D. ’16 also gave compelling performances as Piraguero (Piragua Guy) and Sonny, respectively. The audience loved Chris’ solo “Piragua” and most importantly, laughed at all the right moments, while Ryan played Usnavi’s immature younger cousin Sonny with striking realism.
Of course, one cannot talk about In the Heights without mentioning its star, Usnavi, played by Dan B. ’16. Like Vanessa, Usnavi is a nuanced character who goes through a variety of emotional situations but manages to pull through in the end and discover his real home in el barrio. Most of Usnavi’s songs are in rap form – he narrates the story of el barrio and each of its inhabitants. Dan did a wonderful job of guiding the audience through this rich, complex musical while capturing the emotional highs and lows of his character.
“Yeah I’m a streetlight, chillin’ in the heat! I illuminate the stories of the people in the street / Some have happy endings, some are bittersweet / But I know them all an that’s what makes my life complete” – Usnavi, the Finale
Despite our differences, the core of our stories is inherently the same. Every moment, no matter how raggedy, is worth remembering – just like the words and faces of our loved ones, the walls of the places we’ve stayed. Whether you live in Washington Heights, Brighton Beach, or Todt Hill, you can relate to the lives and trials of each vivid character featured in the musical, In the Heights. There is not a single moment in this show, with its breathtaking lyrics, loveable characters, and catchy music, which falls flat. While the immensity of this project may have seemed discouraging at first, the cast and crew rose to the challenge. They brought energy and dedication to every scene, making it a memorable experience for both themselves and the audience.
By Julia X. ’15