Thursday, November 15, 2018

"In the Heights" ☼ ☼ ☼ Baub

Before there was Hamilton, there was "In the Heights," Lin Manuel Miranda's hip hop ode to Manhattan's Washington Heights, where he grew up. The first play Miranda ever wrote, as a sophomore in college, "In the Heights" won the Tony Award for Best Musical of 2008.

Custom Made Theatre tries hard to recreate on its intimate stage the feeling of a full-bore Broadway production. The cast is young and solid. Louis Lagalante's piano is the sole accompaniment for a hip-hop flavored score and the scenic design by Mara Ishihara Zinky is perfectly adequate. There is a lot of energy flowing from everyone involved, including director and choreographer Nicole Meñez.

We liked the women best -- Carla Gallardo as Nina, Nora Fernandez Doane as Vanessa, Mia Romero as Daniela and Elena Ester as Carla make us laugh as well as be aware of their plight. The lead, Usnavi de la Vega, played by Julio Chavez, as well as his grandmother Claudia (Michelle Navarrete) are supposed to be the central characters but they are upstaged by the younger ladies.

We enjoyed Ernie Tovar as the Piraguas Seller. He, alone in the cast, seemed to be relaxed and natural. But he did not have to memorize a hip-hop score and perform it on a stage packed with people. We also liked Dedrick Weathersby as Benny, Jepoy Ramos as Graffiti Pete and Edwin Jacobs as Sonny.

The difficulty of keeping the rhythm together probably explains why the piano was miked so loudly, often drowning out the overloaded vocal mikes of the performers. Often, if a character turned his or her head, his mike dropped out completely. With so many characters to keep track of, sound quality is a serious issue for the audience.

RATINGS ☼  ☼  ☼ baub

The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division grants "In the Heights" Three Stars, but with a Bauble of Despair. The sound was so iffy and the piano so distractingly loud that we missed a great deal of Miranda's clever lyrics. We did get the gist and admire the chutzpah of Custom Made Theatre to try and pull off a show of this magnitude. If they get their sound together, we would love to remove that Bauble.

"In The Heights"
Custom Made Theatre Company
533 Sutter Street, San Francisco
EXTENDED through Dec. 15.
$40-$55 (Tier Pricing)

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