“In the Heights” – Phoenix Theatre

This review aired on KBAQ September 12, 2016



Phoenix Theatre, Mainstage Theatre

Phoenix, AZ

Broadway arrived at Phoenix Theatre with the weekend opening of a smashing staging of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first New York musical, “In the Heights.”  This 2008 show proved a multiple Tony Award winning creation and prophesied Miranda’s current Broadway hit, “Hamilton,” that arrives next season at ASU Gammage.

Miranda starred in the Broadway production as Usnavi, a storeowner who knows and treasures his barrio’s customers.  The insightful and unique musical explores with splashy panache the diverse Mexican-American neighborhood in Manhattan’s Washington Heights.

In the PT production, Pasha Yamotahari plays the lead heading a diverse group of local and national performers of multiple ethnicities who effectively evolve into this community’s Hispanic population.

PT’s Associate Artistic Director Robert Kolby Harper luminously crafted the production and between the set, staging, dances, costumes, and winning performances, Phoenix Theatre’s “In the Heights” looks, sounds, feels, and conveys the same vibrant excitement that made the Broadway staging noteworthy in the splashy and exuberant first act while properly reflecting the moving sentiment that permeates the softer second act.  Phoenix Theatre’s intimacy lets the audience become immersed in this dynamic community and the standing ovation opening night was well deserved.

The large cast boasts fine performances as every lead player has at least one shimmering moment when they sparkle.  Yamotahari executes his character’s accent, movement, and mannerisms flawlessly to create a memorable personality who serves as the area’s unofficial leader even though he just runs the local grocery.  He knows everyone’s foibles and he sings Miranda’s rapping score with pulsating perfection.

Also marvelous is Johanna Carlisle as the community’s matriarch Abuela Claudia.  Her passing brought tears to my eyes.  Young Nina Rosario bests her neighbors by winning a Stanford University scholarship but she returns home after dropping out.  Her neighbors help her get back on track and Nina is stunningly portrayed by Noella Hernandez.  Her concerned parents are thoughtfully portrayed by Joseph Micalizio and Micha Espinosa.  Espinosa’s fabulous solo “Enough” stops the show when she levels with her protective husband and her initially irresponsible daughter.  Three ladies run a hair salon and they have marvelous but telling fun knowing everything from the local ladies.  Greg Laucella’s Sonny, Usnavi’s cousin, helps in the store as he tells it like it is.  Christopher Brasfield is sharply engaged as a dispatcher in the Rosario’s struggling taxi business and as Nina’s lover.

You will be entertained while learning through this insightful glimpse into this unique New York City community.  “In the Heights” continues through October 2.  For tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A