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Theater Review: In the Heights

By Melody Udell in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 18, 2013 4:20PM

In the Heights makes its local production debut at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

Way up on the northern-most point of Manhattan is the small, vibrant Latino community of Washington Heights that has somehow managed to forestall gentrification. The streets are filled with generations of Dominicans, Cubans, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans — all caught up in the daily struggle to pay their bills, fall in love and live their dreams. And it’s on these streets that playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda has set his lively, touching musical comedy, In The Heights, currently making it’s local production debut at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.

The Paramount has already proven it can produce Broadway-caliber shows, and now the big-box theater is deftly trying its hand at more contemporary works. In the Heights certainly isn’t your typical suburban stage show — lively rap lyrics and a heavy dose of hip hop replace more traditional show tunes. But just like the classic musicals most often produced at suburban venues, In the Heights has a whole lot of heart — it’s just repackaged into an infectious jumble of salsa and hip hop.

Usnavi (Nick Demeris) is the show’s center. The young owner of a corner store, his days consist of serving up coffee to the neighbors as he dreams of moving to his late parents’ hometown in the Dominican Republic. In the meantime, he attempts to woo Vanessa (Caitlainne Rose Gurreri), the hairdresser who wants to escape the barrio for a better life downtown. Their friend Nina (Christina Nieves) has just returned to from her less-than-stellar first year at Stanford and struggles with facing her disappointed parents. Luckily, she finds solace in Benny (Jonathan Butler-Duplessis), the charming employee at her father’s taxi cab company. The group is banded together through Abuela Claudia (Paula Scrofano), a beloved neighborhood fixture who praises the virtues of patience and faith.

While Scrofano and Nieves are especially strong singers, the true magic happens during the frantic, truly enjoyable ensemble numbers. The Paramount’s full orchestra helps amp up the excitement in each full-cast performance. Although unfortunately, a few moments during solo performances were difficult to hear.

Director Rachel Rockwell and choreographer Katie Spelman ensure there’s hardly a dull moment during In the Heights. Various characters are constantly dancing through the neighborhood and populating the storefronts on a set that stayed faithful to the original Broadway version.

In the Heights is an uplifting, contemporary look at what it truly means to be a community — and it’s well worth the trek to Aurora.

The show runs through Sunday, October 6 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, tickets by phone at 630-896-6666 or online.