San Diego REPertory opened it’s 38th season with the Tony Award winning musical, “In the Heights” by Quiara Alegrìa Hudes with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. A partnering with dance and theatre students from The San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts and their live 20-piece orchestra helped bring the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights to San Diego, California.
The show delves into the modern conflict of gentrification as well as the internal conflict that stems from differences in class and culture(s). As the rent goes up, residents are slowly forced to move their families and businesses elsewhere. The other side of the coin involves those that DO want to move out of the neighborhood because it signifies “moving up in the world”. When the reality of these changes sets in, it becomes hauntingly sad; money can change your life even when it’s not your own and moving up in the world can mean giving up a little bit of yourself, losing the familiar and growing apart from those you grew up with.
The diverse characters include bodega owner, Usnavy played by Emmy Award-winning television host and actor, Jai Rodriguez. The name came from the U. S. Navy ship that Usnavy’s parents saw when they moved to New York. The bodega is a must go spot for morning coffee and lotto tickets before starting the daily grind. The abuela (grandma) played by Susan Denaker, who’s not Usnavy’s biological grandmother but practically raised him after his parents passed away, is a staple in the community and represents the meaning of, “It takes a village to raise a child” as she treats all the neighborhood kids as her own.
The crux of the play is the character played by Chelsea Diggs-Smith, Nina Rosario. The pressure for her to succeed at Stanford doesn’t come just from her parents but the entire neighborhood. When she comes back to the neighborhood she breaks down and reveals her insecurities about fitting in, struggles with money, and fears of letting everyone down. Her success is significant to them because it represents “making it” but at what cost?
The actors gave wonderful performances. My favorite is Usnavy’s charming cousin, Sonny played by Michael S. Garcia. He flirts with older women and talks about fighting for the people. At one point he’s trying to convince Usnavy to give free sodas to the entire neighborhood because he felt it’s the right thing to do.
Susanna Peredo Swap as hairdresser Daniela steals the show with her singing voice and comedic timing. Her character was forced to move her hair salon to the Bronx due to the high rent. There’s even a Piragua Guy played by Victor Chan whose business suffers when the kids choose Mr. Softee over the shaved ice treats. All their stories are sure to get you thinking and moving as they’re told through a mix of hip-hop, rap, jazz, pop, salsa, and merengue.
The play is directed by San Diego REPertory Theatre co-founder Sam Woodhouse who has served as its producing and artistic director since its inception in 1976.
Make sure to get your tickets before it’s over on August 25.