Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Tag Archives: Tony-winning musicals
When the musical “In the Heights” by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes, hit Broadway in 2008, the excitement it created came from two angles. First, it celebrated the sense of neighborhood and the stresses of change in the largely Latino barrios of New York itself. But on a larger scale, it used contemporary hip-hop and Latino musical forms to celebrate the elemental life force of similar barrio neighborhoods from the Bronx to Huntington Park, and the threats posed to their close-knit fabric by the forces of gentrification. As such it contained a universality which, when combined with the high energy music born from salsa and marenge, became identifiable across cultures and geographic location.
Now this lively, heart-filled musical has opened in a finely polished production at Claremont’s Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater. With sharp, live percussion, a talented, focused and ensemble cast, and a message everyone can connect to, the show is a sure-fire hit.
The story looks at one block in a low-rent section of New York City. There, Usnavi works the corner bodega left him by his father, and along with his young cousin Sonny provides basic services, and a community center for the rest of the neighborhood. That community includes the Rosarios, owners of a car service and proud parents of Nina, the daughter whose departure for Stanford has become a symbol of “getting out.” Nina’s return brings its own issues, particularly in relation to her interest in Benny, a Rosario employee her parents think of as beneath her.
Also part of the community are Daniella, owner of the hair salon she’s soon to close and move thanks to rent hikes, and her two employees, Carla and especially Vanessa – the girl Usnavi is trying to get up the nerve to ask out. These, a young artistic tagger known as Graffiti Pete, an ambitious seller of fruit-flavored ices known as the Piragua Guy, and a joyously various ensemble of singer-dancers round out the extended family of neighbors. At the heart of all of it is the aging Cuban woman who acts as everyone’s grandmother, Abuela Claudia.
A hot summer, a city-wide blackout, rising personal and communal tensions, and news someone from the Bodega has a winning lottery ticket all combine to create a very recognizable drama, filled with humor, pathos, and all that lively music.
Ruben J. Carbajal proves articulate and deeply committed as Usnavi, providing the glue which holds the show together. Ruben Bravo and Chris Marcos as Sonny and Graffiti Pete vibrate with the energy of youth – kids with hip-hop roots and big hearts. Anyssa Navarro brings to the torn and somewhat desperate Nina a sense of the weight which comes with carrying the dreams of an entire neighborhood on your shoulders, while Revel Day provides a subtle sense of the outsider looking in as Benny.
Dominique Paton shimmers as the troubled but ambitious Vanessa, Orlando Montes as Nina’s introvertedly angry father, and Jackie Lorenzo Cox as her disappointed, practical mother provide a balance of truly adult forces in the mostly youthful tale. Candida Celaya cements all these characters and more together with a subtle power as the fragile Abuela. Indeed, everyone in the cast is right on point, providing one of the most evenly fine ensembles Candlelight Pavilion has had in many years.
But the excellence doesn’t stop there. Director Benjamin Perez uses the small stage as if it was a full city street, and takes the audience there with him. Marissa Herrera’s energetic and organic choreography becomes a physical celebration all its own. Anna Louizos Designs’ adaptation of the original Broadway set continues this polish, as do Karen Fix Curry’s costumes and even Mary Warde’s extremely convincing wigs.
The best of this production comes from the melding of all the theatrical elements into a seamless whole. The story is captivating, the music, though not wildly hummable afterward, proves apt for the story and as organic as the dance. The tech is solid, enhancing the whole. The deep love for the genuine, rounded people being portrayed and their individual and communal struggles is evident throughout. This is a story centered on a strong sense of character – all the characters – and their sense of place.
The secondary joy of any Candlelight Pavilion performance is that it comes with dinner. Make this your night on the town. “In the Heights” will offer up surprises for those who like their musicals more standard, but the surprises will be pleasant ones.
What: “In the Heights” When: Through September 13, doors open for dinner at 6 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and Thursday September 10, 5 p.m. Sundays, and 11 a.m. for brunch Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd. in Claremont How Much: $58-$73 general, $30-$35 children, meal inclusive Info: (909) 626-1254, ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com
It’s true. Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin and their ilk wrote some of the best musicals you’ve never seen. The music has lasted, become classic and revered, but the plots were two dimensional necessities to get one from dance number to dance number. They haven’t survived because there was nothing there really, other than the songs and dances.
Which provides the core of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” the breezy Tony-winning send-up of those 1920s musicals, their ridiculous plots and delightfully superficial songs now at The Candlelight Pavilion in Claremont. We join a man obsessed with old musicals in his locked apartment, where he plays the full cast recording of his favorite, the fictional 1920s hit of the title. As he narrates and discusses the minutia of the production, we watch it appear in all its opulence, in his kitchen.
The result is delightful, silly and in the case of this production, polished and vibrantly energetic. Directed and choreographed by the husband-and-wife team of Carlos Martin and Kami Seymour, the impressive cast manages to capture the feel of having a Broadway show literally in one’s living room.
Chuck Ketter, who also designed the clever set, has a field day with the fussy little “Man in Chair” whose obsession, and whose humorous analysis threads the show together. He’s exactly right: hesitant yet passionate, apologetic yet instructive. He is joined by a host of others, with standout performances by John LaLonde as the ridiculously stereotypical “Latin lover,” Adolpho, Shaina Zalma Ostroff as the airheaded hostess Lady Tottendale, and Neil Dole as the wise butler, Underling.
Also worthy of special note are Laura Thatcher as the easily swayed Broadway star ready to give up her career for marriage, Wesley Alfin as her romantic focus, and Debbie Prutsman as the title character – a woman more in love with alcohol than her tepid job as guardian. Jon M. Wailin and Adam Trent make engaging, non-threatening gangsters. Jessica Mason tops off the evening as a suddenly-appearing aviatrix.
This show first appeared in the L.A. area at the Ahmanson Theatre in 2005. To see it translated to a much smaller stage is, surprisingly, to see it deliver a more direct sense of that enthusiasm for musical theater to the audience – an audience which cannot help but be receptive. Pair this with a reasonable dinner, and you have an attractive, lightweight, song-filled evening – an evening which will pass more quickly than you could imagine.
What: “The Drowsy Chaperone” When: Through April 15, 6 p.m. dinner Thursdays through Saturdays, 5 p.m. dinner Sundays, 11 a.m. brunch Saturdays and Sundays Where: Candlelight Pavilion Dinner Theater, 455 W. Foothill Blvd, in Claremont How Much: meal and show $48 – $68 general, $25 – $30 children 12 and under Info: (909) 626-1254 ext. 1 or http://www.candlelightpavilion.com