Combining rap music with Latin rhythms, the Tony Award-winning musical In the Heights bursts onto the stage of the Charity Randall Theatre as the current offering from the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Theatre Arts.
Written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes, the show receives a colorful and lively production, directed by Lisa Jackson-Schebetta.
Set in the barrio of New York City's Washington Heights neighborhood, the musical examines the lives — and dreams — of its residents.
The Rosarios have sent their daughter Nina off to Stanford University in hopes she will make a better life for herself — and not end up with dispatcher Benny. Vanessa, one of the stylists at Ortega's Beauty Salon, dreams of moving downtown. Usnavi, who is secretly in love with Vanessa, runs the corner bodega. And watching it all from her front stoop is Abuela Claudia, the neighborhood sage.
Choreographer Staycee Pearl has done a mesmerizing job with the cast dancing on all three levels of Gianna Downs' spectacular set. Adding to the physical production is the perfect lighting of Annmarie Duggan, which is highlighted by a most impressive fireworks display.
While their rapping is sometimes unintelligible, Mike Magliocca, as Usnavi, and Rocky Paterra, as Benny, bring incredible charm and vitality to the production.
The voices of Arianna Kraiman, as Nina, and Chelsea Faber, as Vanessa, soar to the rafters of the auditorium. Also making a powerful vocal impression is Tim Kaniecki as the Piragua Guy.
Jenna Michelle Simmons as Abuela Claudia shines during her number "Paciencia y Fe."
Bringing just the right comic touch to In the Heights are Molly Balk and Gabrielle Cuadra as the wise-cracking hair stylists Daniela and Carla.
The entire cast is to be saluted for their high-energy performances: They not only sing, dance and act, but also climb ladders and move scenery.
The band, under the baton of Douglas Levine, is outstanding. You'll want to join the cast and dance in the aisles!
It's a shame the sound system fails this show, either by crackling through group numbers or going out entirely on individuals.