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“In the Heights” Era Caliente, Caliente, Caliente!

Virginia Rep is setting the stage on fire with its current production of In The Heights. The show sizzles with electrifying brilliance and humor, raising the bar for the musical genre.

From the set to the music to the acting, the show is pure Broadway. And what else would you expect from the the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda? The show did win four Tony Awards in 2008 and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2009.

Virginia Rep’s production lives up to that level. It pulses with rhythm and energy from start to finish.

Melissa Vázquez Cartwright, Arielle Jacobs, Shea Gomez, and Kita Grayson. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

In The Heights is set in the vibrant, largely Hispanic neighborhood of New York’s Washington Heights on the northern end of the island of Manhattan. It tells the story of Usnavi, a second generation Dominican-American who owns a small bodega and is always trying to get the attention of Vanessa, who works in the beauty salon next door. Usnavi also looks after Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the community, and shares her dream of living carefree in the Dominican Republic.

Their stories mesh with the stories of Nina, a young college student who has a secret to share with her family, and Benny a young man who works for her father and is in love with Nina.

Roberto Whitaker, James Schoppe, JJ Caruncho, and Josh Marin. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Director Nathaniel Shaw has brought together a talented cast that delivers on all fronts. His light-handed approach encourages expression and creativity. He brings the audience into the action by having members of the cast enter and exit down the aisles.

This 22-member cast is animated and energized throughout the production. And, did I mention filled with talent. What else would you expect from a cast that includes ballet and Latin dancers, as well as Broadway and regional actors.

The dancing in this show, which is the original choreography of Karla Garcia, who is currently in the Broadway cast of Hamilton, is sensational. It moves the action along and provides its own storylines, which adds to the depth and fabric of the show.

With so many standouts in one production, it’s different to acknowledge everyone.

Roberto Whitaker, LaWanda S. Raines, and ensemble. Photo by Aaron Sutten.

Shea Gomez (Nina) and Josh Marin (Benny) who play star-crossed lovers pair beautifully together. (Read about Virginia native Josh Marin in RFM this month!) Their voices, which by the way are splendidly spot-on, blend together in a delightful way.

Vilma Gil (Camila) and Melissa Vazquez Cartwright (Daniela) bring a streak of feistiness as well as strong voices to their roles. Joseph Rodriguez (Kevin) and Yvonne Strumecki (Abuela) give very honest performances and great vocals.

Arielle Jacobs (Vanessa) gives a sincere, emotional performance that’s laced with humor and beautiful vocals.

JJ Caruncho (Usnavi) first deserves an award for simply remembering all of his rap lyrics and delivering them with such ease and musicality. He is extremely talented and full of energy and impish playfulness. He brings to the show the type of heart that is so refreshing.

The crew that created the set deserves their own award for a stellar set built to the specifications of the original Broadway design credited to Tony Award-nominated scenic designer Anna Louizos. The authenticity and intricacy is absolutely amazing.

Lighting designer Joe Doran skillfully creates everything from fireworks to flickering candles in the production. His lighting is a major player in the show. Sarah Grady’s vibrant costumes are perfectly matched to the characters.

In The Heights is yet another Virginia Rep production that must be seen.

Este espectáculo era caliente, caliente, caliente! (This show is hot, hot, hot.) Don’t miss it at November Theatre through July 30. The two-and-a-half hour show is suitable for families and kids over ten.

For showtimes and tickets (including student and group discounts and rush tickets), visit Virginia Rep.


An award-winning writer based in Richmond, Joan Tupponce is a parent, grandparent, and self-admitted Disney freak. She writes about anything and everything and enjoys meeting inspiring people and telling their stories. Joan’s work has appeared in RFM since the magazine’s first issue in October 2009. Look for original and exclusive online articles about Richmond-area people, places, and ideas at Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.

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