Pasco High's 'In the Heights' production features multicultural dancing, singing

Special to the Tri-City HeraldApril 26, 2013 

In The Heights, Pasco High's new drama production, features a multicultural cast singing and dancing their hearts out in a Latino barrio in the Washington Heights section of Manhattan.

Here’s the bad news: the plot consists of a less-than-thrilling series of vignettes about the main characters.

Here's the great news: the music is fresh and fabulous, the actors are so energized you can practically see the sparks fly, and the dancing is absolutely fantastic.

This spirited musical is like no other show I've seen on a Tri-City stage. You know you're in a different dimension when the lead song is rapped out in bursts of slangy rhyme, accompanied by a live bass guitar and several young men b-boying on the sidewalk. It is an embodiment of pure joy.

The Spanish-speaking denizens of the barrio are all dreamers. They want a better life, but can't quite seem to get there. The main character, Usnavi, and his abuela (grandmother) want to return to the Dominican Republic but can't come up with the money. Good girl Nina wants to return to Stanford University, but can't come up with either the money or the sheer energy it takes to attend a school so different culturally and geographically from her upbringing. The plot strings together these and many other individual stories in the manner of a soap opera; lots of repetition and a slow pace. But this play isn't about plot. It's about joy.

The large cast has the energy to sing, dance, rap, act, speak two languages on stage, and do all of this with sparkle. Sometimes it seems as if their neon-colored canvas shoes are bouncing across the stage out of sheer exuberance.

Standout performers are Oziel Lopez as a piraguero (seller of frozen treats), rumbling across the stage in a marvelous series of guajabera embroidered shirts. Joanna Barajas as a beauty salon owner with attitude delivers the play’s funniest lines with a great mixture of affection and sheer brass. The lead, Franklin Castellanos, is the actor that holds the play together. The range of demands for his performance, from sweet to stern, Spanish to English, rap to crooning, is all delivered with panache.

The stage decorations feature the George Washington Bridge behind the small businesses that are the focus of the play’s vignettes. The barrio is a little too clean and nice to be strictly believable, but lovely to look at.

One enjoyable feature of the production is the intermission performance of a 16-piece student mariachi band in full regalia. There is a sweetness and earnestness to their music that is a perfect foil to the supercharged energy on the main stage.

This is a very different stage offering for the Tri-Cities. Try it. You’ll like it.

Advance tickets to the show cost $12 for reserved and $8 for general admission seating. At the door, the prices are $15 and $10. Tickets can be purchased at the high school office, 1108 N. 10th Ave. The show runs April 25-27 and May 2-4 in the Gregson Auditorium at Pasco High School. Showtime is 7 p.m.

-- Nancy Welliver is a longtime supporter of the arts. She has worked at Hanford as an engineer and is a member of the Camerata Musica organization.

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