Pulsing Latin beats, moving stories, infuse Gateway’s ‘In the Heights’


If you’ve ever scanned grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ photos, chances are scenes of front stoops, fire escapes, small-business storefronts, a subway entrance, and a distant iconic structure like the George Washington Bridge are in there. It wasn’t that long ago that many of our relatives immigrated to this country to settle and aspire in neighborhoods like these.

That’s what “In the Heights” offers. With a realistic set that reflects all the above, its story imbues the aspirations, yearnings, community, hard work, sacrifice, celebration of family, and generational conflicts in this euphoric Gateway production of a Latino barrio in Washington Heights and its people over a three-day period in the early 1980s.

A recent performance resounded with audience cries of “Arriba!” “Arriba!” and delirious applause several times. Its buoyant, youthful, rip-your-heart-out singing and dancing throughout, via individual characters and collectively, leave the audience with this wish: that this passionate, alive neighborhood family of 20, was your own.

Usnavi, played by Ryan Alvarado, who runs a small bodega, is the linchpin for this community, along with matriarch Abuela Claudia. Coming from The Dominican Republic as a baby with his parents who have since died, he is the unofficial, kind, self-effacing mayor selling lottery tickets and café con leches. Alvarado is an endearing, indelible presence—stunning, actually—as he raps, sings, dances, poignantly pines for his Vanessa, and cares for his cousin Sonny and Abuela Claudia, originally from Cuba.

He’s dead center in the opening “In the Heights” number, which introduces all its residents. Overall, the 23 numbers are musical extravaganzas of song, dance, and power (the choreography and direction by Vincent Ortega are stunning).

It’s percussion, Latin pop, salsa, in nearly all.

Alia Munsch as Nina sings the beautiful “Breathe” as she struggles to tell her neighborhood friends and parents that Stanford University dropped her scholarship after underperforming; she was overwhelmed by her jobs to keep up the costs and not studying.  Her love interest, Benny, presents another dilemma. Played by Christian Brailsford, Benny is a riveting, romantic lead, with determined goals of upward mobility. He works for Nina’s dad at Rosario’s Car and Limousine Service as the head dispatcher.

Michelle Alves as Daniela is the spitfire, hilarious Unisex Beauty Shop owner, with amazing pipes, who loves gossip and hides a heart of gold despite a sassy tongue. Watch Alves tear the stage up in “No Me Diga.” Her assistant Carla (Juliana Andrea Betancur) is her comic sidekick trying to nudge the boss towards a little more kindness.

And what a force of nature! Sydia Cedeño as Abuela Claudia is a positive scene stealer. In “Patience and Faith,” the caring feeder of birds and neighborhood comforter who wins the $96,000 lottery ticket, sings of her journey to the States as three lovely dancers in white emulate her youth. When describing her travails here, she wails her dilemma in song: “What do you do when your dreams come true? What do I do with this winning lottery ticket?”

The crowd went wild.

Chelsea Zeno rocks it as Vanessa, yearning for a better apartment and life.  Watch her in “The Club/Fireworks” scene with her red sequin dress as she dances away from Usnavi with other partners.

When Kevin Rosario, (Rubén Flores), father of Nina, makes an announcement over dinner, it’s another fiery look at a Puerto Rican seeking a better life away from farming with his wife. But he discounts her in the decision to sell his business as well as Benny’s love for his daughter. His wife Camilla, Francisca Muñoz, has her own fierce response in “Enough.”


Clap! Clap! Clap! To Felipe Cristancho Rodriguez as Sonny, Usnavi’s goofy cousin, as well as Mateus Barbosa Da Silva as Graffiti Pete, who ultimately redeems himself. And Javier Garcia as the Piragua Guy, what a voice! Kudos to the orchestra for their exquisite musicality keeping the beat going.

Bring your date, mom, dad, whoever, to this wonderful production. It’s playing until April 14.


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