REVIEW – IN THE HEIGHTS – PALO ALTO PLAYERS

I saw the Broadway Tour of In the Heights not too long about and thought it a stunning production, seriously one of the best I had ever seen, from beginning to end. It’s an ambitious show to take on that requires a lot of charisma and talent from the cast and Palo Alto Players has done a really wonderful job of bringing a big show to a more intimate stage without losing any of the power. In fact, in some cases I think a smaller stage really benefits the show, allowing the audience to see more subtle choices.

At its core, In the Heights tells compelling stories in fundamentally creative and genuine ways. The music, dance and dialogue are all real, relevant, clever and entertaining, and perhaps most refreshing it’s an uplifting and positive show. While it’s not a show I listen to for pleasure, it is a show I enjoyed watching. I feel it needs the triple threat to live up to its full potential, that the melodies and the lyrics are enhanced exponentially with actors interpretations, facial expressions, body language, sets, lights and of course all manner of dance.

The cast was talented, emotional, connected and adorable. Most importantly, like the content, like the stories, they are real. I could see what I suspect was a lot of the actors own personalities coming through in the characters. They tell stories that had meaning to them, their chemistry appeared authentic and I honestly didn’t catch a single line flub, which adds to that overall authenticity. They were likeable, very much so. We easily rooted for them and shared in their trials and victories. They are all an ‘everyman” and totally unique individuals which really helps an audience as diverse as the actors on stage and the content they’re performing, connect and empathize. Additionally, a great way to get your audience in the moment is to “justify” breaking into songs by making music (and art) such a huge part OF the story, not just in the TELLING of it.

From hip hop and slam poetry to rap, Latin salsa and ballads, this entire ensemble executes the music admirable and the movement exceptionally. This show really requires nimble tongued vocal prowess and they delivered across the board. I loved seeing a variety or body types take on the dancing and just smash it (in the good way).  The leads, supporting characters and ensemble all came together cohesively and it showed on stage with that x factor quality.

Sure, there were some words I couldn’t understand or hear over the orchestra occasionally and some weaker singing here and there, but it didn’t really bother me with so much soul and enthusiasm emanating from the stage.  The walking around/in front of the pit made me VERY nervous on occasion, but generally I really appreciated the use of all the stage levels. The up stage, balconies and thrust uses were balanced and natural (nothing forced) and made for pretty pictures without appearing to stagey. From top to bottom this show was truly solid.

You don’t need to have lived this story or know these people, like hip hop or speak Spanish to feel this show personally and be entertained by it. A well-deserved 4 out of 5 jewels in the review tiara for a high-energy, passionate show that I feel will resonate with a wide audience. In the Heights plays through September 29th, only at the Lucie Stern Community Theater in Palo Alto.

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