The CSUSB Theatre Arts department is presenting the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical, In The Heights.
The show, directed by professor Kathryn Ervin, will have a total of eight performances beginning on May 31, and continuing on June 1, 6, 7 and 8 at 8 p.m., with matinee performances June 2, 8, and 9 at 2 p.m.
In The Heights boasts a unique score by Tony, Oscar, and Grammy award winner Lin Manuel Miranda. Miranda is the first person in musical theatre history to create what is now known as the rap-musical. His claim to fame came seven years later with the musical phenomenon Hamilton in 2015.
In The Heights centers around a Latino community in Washington Heights, New York and the diverse cast of characters that live in the community and what “home” means to each of them. For some home is a place, for others a person, and for some, it is a feeling of community.
“When we began studying the script, one of the things that stood out was how much the people love each other, how much it’s a script about community and family, and how much it is a script about how people enjoy the work that they do,” Director Kathryn Ervin reflected. “The whole play is about everybody hustling.”
The show’s cast seems to have adopted these values, as it was evident from spending a few rehearsals with the group, there was a strong connection between each of them.
Rehearsals began promptly at 6:30 p.m. and the bustle of the cast filing in for a fight call or dance rehearsal lifted the energy within the room. To the actors, it seemed as though the hours they spent in class prior to rehearsal melted away and the most important thing in their life was to embody these characters and tell their stories.
One can see the passion that the students have when they are telling the stories of the people on the streets of Washington Heights. When running through one of the show’s central numbers, “96,000”, the energy of not just the students performing was lifted but that of the choreographer, music director, and stage managers as well.
From first rehearsals to the final dress rehearsal, the cast and crew poured all of their energy into the show. By the time their tech week came about, the show had a new life and each of the performers owned each word, song, and dance they executed.
The stage and costume designers found a way to bring Washington Heights to life through the use of projections and detail when setting the scene. Small things like the elevated train passing by above the awnings and the lighting designer’s use of color to make the fireworks come to life.
The dedication that the actors put into their performances shined brighter than the fireworks. The actors embodied their characters and, down to the most minute details, the thespians were able to connect with the audience and make them feel every emotion that coursed through the pulse of the show.
When opening night finally arrived, the long hours and late nights paid off as the theatre began to fill with the excited chatter of an expectant crowd.
As the overture plays, a lull falls over the crowd, and immediately everyone’s attention snaps to Graffiti Pete, played by Carlos Mares, ushering us into the world of Washington Heights.
Seeing all of the parts of the show together empowers the cast which reflects in their energy and execution. Everyone’s dance steps are cleaner, and their voices are stronger as they use the energy of the audience to fuel their performances. The family is as strong as ever to tell the story of the people of the Heights.
The audience was emersed in the story and having an intimate platform to tell this story helped make the audience feel as though they were members of the family of the Heights.
“I like that there is interaction with the audience,” said Julissa Diaz “it makes you feel like you’re in the musical.”
“This show is amazing,” said Camilo Zaragoza, “I like that it’s not just singing, that it uses rapping too. It’s not often that you see musicals with Latinos in them.”
In fact, what makes In the Heights so unique is the fact that in addition to being about family and home, it is a show about representation.
Lin Manuel Miranda uses national pride to fuel the characters and their memories. He writes, “from Puerto Rico to Santo Domingo, wherever we go we rep our people…” in the show’s song about national pride, “Carnival Del Barrio.”
Having a show like In the Heights presented in a school like CSUSB is important, especially because the majority of the students who attend the school are immigrants themselves or the children of immigrants.
The theatre arts department at CSUSB has trained these actors to be professional and precise in their craft. Every decision they made added to the character’s personality and story and the attention to detail made by the entire cast, crew, and creative team made In the Heights the can’t-miss show of the 2019 Theatre Arts department season.