AHSPA’s “In the Heights” Takes a Snapshot of an East Coast ‘Hood’

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The show opens with the dynamic, high-energy opening number “In the Heights.” Not only does this production boast a 25-member cast, but it features modernized aspects not found in a typical musical.

A Classic Neighborhood Story that Mixes Rap with Romance

Sophia Cheng

Staff Writer

    Directed by Drama teacher Troy River, American High School Performing Art’s spring musical  “In the Heights” opened on Thursday, April 21, 2015 with a sold-out house and positive reviews.

    Nina Rosario (junior Natalie Dunn) is the pride and joy of the neighborhood returning from her first year at Stanford. However, she bears bad news, having taken a leave of absence after losing the scholarship that made college financially attainable. Adding to the Rosario’s troubles, Vanessa (senior Medha Jaramayan) has dreams of moving out, but has an alcoholic mother, Usnavi (senior Lawrence Chen) has his eyes set on the Dominican Republic, and Benny (senior Nicholas Callen) and Usnavi have yet to win over their love interests.

    Set in a dominantly Dominican-American neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York, “In the Heights” brings the streets to the stage along with the mixed Spanish and English language and culture of  “el barrio.” There is hip-hop as well as salsa, rapping and musical lyrics, and a life motto “No pare sigue, sigue,” meaning “Don’t stop, keep going, keep going” to carry the characters through.

    “This show is a slice of life of Washington Heights, “Assistant Director Tara Habibi (12) said. “You get to know the characters, you feel what they feel, and you feel for them. The cast really worked hard to make this happen. There are a lot of fresh faces with people from different backgrounds. In the past, you see the same people in the productions, but the show spoke for itself- anyone can join, and we all come together as a family.”

   Just like the characters they play in this hilarious, yet heart-warming show, the cast members considered the bonds they formed as one of the most rewarding parts of the production.

    “We all started out as strangers, and we just became this family,” Medha Jayaramen (12) said. “Over time, we became our characters the more we learned about how to act and to work as a team. We now have this amazing relationship and although I’m really sad it’s done, I had a good time.”

   Moreover, students found this upbeat musical just as worthwhile from the audience’s side. Despite the large cast, the energy throughout the show was contagious and the characters were memorable, from the charismatic Benny to the indomitable Paraguas Guy in his struggles against his neighborly foe, Mister Softee.

    “My favorite part was when Usnavi was trying to open the bottle of champagne,” Maddie Toriano (11) said. “As a whole, the show was humorous and there was nothing they could do to make it any better.”

    For some students, in addition to the highlight being its comedic factors, the show even exceeded their expectations.

   “I liked the part where the guy was being shooed off after graffitiing the wall,” Akhil Bhamidipati (10) said. “Overall, it was pretty funny, and a pretty good play. I didn’t expect it to be this good.”

    Behind the scenes, other students involved in the production had parts of the play they looked forward to every time, as the actors and actresses gradually stepped into their character’s shoes.

    “I loved every scene with Abuela Claudia in it,” crew member Mikaela Keung (12) said. “She’s a lovable and sweet character. On top of that, she sings really well.”  

    While the more contemporary attributes were intended to generate interest among students, they were popular among the general audience as well.

    “I normally don’t like rapping, and have never heard it in a musical before, but in this musical- I loved it, beat and all,” parent Stephen Dunn said. “The dancing was really good, and the cast, too. I was impressed.”

    All in all, the musical received an overwhelming amount of positive feedback. It pulled people’s heartstrings, brought out multiple rounds of laughter, and demonstrated the cast’s hard work.

     “The performers did a wonderful job,” staff member Mrs. Liu said. “The choreography was amazing and it’s obvious that a tremendous amount of energy, skill, and talent went into the production.”

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