Search This Blog

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Brilliant Cast Dazzles at Collin Theater Center

Rarely is one treated to so consistently fine a collegiate theater experience as Collin Theater Company's vibrant and near perfect production of In the Heights, the 2005 musical about the trials and triumphs of families in New York's Washington Heights neighborhood.

The plot revolves around the lives of the residents of a Latino community in the early 21st century. Nina, the play's central character, is the barrio's great white hope; the first in her family to go to college, Stanford, no less. The story opens when she returns home to disappoint family and friends by having lost her scholarship and subsequently dropping out of school. Amidst financial woes, mixed race romances and struggles with cultural identity, fortunes change when Abuela Claudia, matriarch of the entire neighborhood wins a large lottery jackpot. Before she can spend her money, Abuela dies, and through her death comes redemption for nearly everyone she touched in life.

In thirty years of theater going, I have rarely seen such a uniformly talented cast. Forty-plus strong, this gifted ensemble sings, raps, dances and acts with skill, precision and complete credibility. Taylor McKie's sophisticated dance numbers are brilliantly executed. Mark Mullino has trained his singers to shine both as soloists and as a choir, and the balance between movement, music and elocution is nearly perfect.

Clinton Greenspan plays the fetching Usnavi (named after the Naval vessel his father spies in the harbor upon entry into the U.S.). Mr. Greenspan is deftly able to run the A to Z emotional gamut with aplomb, always believable and never over-wrought. His dark good looks and well honed musicality are a powerhouse package, making him a young actor with much future promise.

Megan Black's satin voice is the selling point for her portrayal of the conflicted Nina. With spot on intonation and a uniform clarity from the top to the bottom of her range, Miss Black is a singer's singer and a joy to hear. Amanda Brown as Abuela Claudia turned in the most polished vocal performance of the night with her show-stopping first act aria, followed very closely by Juliette Talley's you-go-girl second act ass kicker, pulled off to perfection despite a faulty microphone that could have upstaged a less seasoned and confident performer.

The Rookie of the Year award, especially for his superb singing, goes to Leo Thomasian, who's understated yet perfectly executed side kick Sonny, often stole the show. This is a young man with a gift who deserves a much wider audience.

Colin Philips provided splendidly sung comic relief as the Piragua Guy and Mark Quach's brazen dance moves made his performance one of the evening's great delights.

In a production with very few weaknesess, I did wish for some of the younger chorus members to butch it up a bit, and I found Phillip Slay's effete portrayal of Kevin Rosario to be more metrosexual than patriarchal. But those were but mild distractions.

Mark Mullino led a superb nine-piece orchestra whose presence was powerfully felt yet never overwhelming.

In short, this was a joyous night of theater. You've got one more chance to see it, tomorrow afternoon, and this is a spiritual uplifting not to be missed.

In the Heights was written by Quiara Algeria Hudes with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda.

No comments: