The University of Texas Theatre and Dance Department is currently performing one of the largest landmark musical of the 2000’s. In The Heights, is an urban musical focusing on the lives of citizens living in the heights area of New York, a mainly Latino and African American area. The show written and conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda, with book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is a human interest piece with a lot of heart. The University of Texas Department of Theatre and Dance production is directed by Jerry Ruiz, who did a great job at developing well rounded characters, and helping his cast to show a genuine picture of people living at the poverty level.
The cast of this show is strong, and filled with mostly students, who have a challenge of wordy dialogue and rap music to make understandable by the entire audience. That is no easy feat. The show is heralded by Trey Curtis, as Usnavi De La Vega, a first generation American and small business owner. Curtis has most of the more challenging rap sections of the show and performs them all with ease and perfect diction so that even the more hearing challenged audience members we able to understand every word. Additionally Theresa Medina as Abuela Claudia does a terrific job portraying the neighborhood grandmother and caretaker. You genuinely feel her love for each person on her street and in the audience. The other standouts from the cast include Marianel Marquez as the loud and vivacious Daniela, Nicolas Garza, as the charming Piraguero, and Cherry Mendoza as Vanessa.
There are however a few less than polished portions of this production, one of the most easily repaired was the poor sound editing and audio issues that plagues the performance. We saw many microphones were malfunctioning and causing some problems hearing all of the dialogue. While we applaud UT for wanting to include as many of its students as possible, there also needs to be a professionalism and realism in their productions, and the amount of people that they tried to shove onto their rather small stage was not realistic or professional. The choreography lacked polish and looked as though they need another week or two of rehearsals. The staging and choreography neither one helped with the overcrowding. In fact many times made the issue worse, with actors running into one another.
In The Heights runs through April 19,2014 at the B. Iden Payne Theatre on the University of Texas Austin. For tickets and information please log on to http://www.utexas.edu/finearts/tad/