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Cleveland Play House’s ‘In The Heights?’ It’s Hot!

Cleveland Play House has a tradition of taking on challenging productions and pulling them off in extreme and remarkable fashion. Their latest offering of “In The Heights”, (the Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes Broadway musical) is one you would expect to appear as a touring production on the bigger stages at Playhouse Square yet CPH gets it to fit quite well in the Allen Theatre.

The show began as a college project for Miranda during his sophomore year at Wesleyan University in 1999. It is a love story based on the characters he grew up with in the New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. Over the years the show underwent many changes, especially when emerging playwright Hudes joined on in 2004. The show had a tryout in Waterford, Connecticut in 2005 followed by an off-Broadway run in 2007. The show opened on Broadway in March of 2008 being nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and winning four, including Best Musical.

So what makes this show so special? In so few of words, it has heart and soul. Washington Heights is in crisis. Businesses are closing, people are relocating, traditions are being lost along with “the stories” and gentrification seems poised to change the neighborhood forever. Usnavi De La Vega (Joseph Morales) owns a small bodega (coffee shop) where the entire neighborhood gathers for the “hot, light and sweet” nectar that Usnavi’s deceased father had started the coffee shop with so many years ago.

Usnavi is in love with Vanessa (Kaylyn West) who works next door at the beauty salon with Daniela (Shadia Fairuz) and Carla (Kirstin Angelina Henry) who are the neighborhood gossips. Usnavi was raised by Abuela Claudia (Trinidad Snider), an elderly Cuban immigrant, after the deaths of his parents. Sonny (Gabriel Subervi) is Usnavi’s cousin who works at the bodega. Next door is Kevin (Rudy Martinez) and Camila (Michelle Aravena) Rosario who run the neighborhood cab company where Benny (Chibueze Ihuoma), Usnavi’s best friend is employed. Benny is madly in love with Nina (Addie Morales), his employer’s daughter, who is back home after a year at Stanford University. Nina is the pride of the neighborhood and an example of “someone who has made it” but she returns in shame having lost her scholarship due to bad grades. This is because she had to work two jobs to make up for the financial shortcomings of the tuition grant.

Everyone has dreams and desires. Usnavi dreams of moving to the Dominican Republic and opening a bar on the beach. Vanessa wants to move out of a repressive household, have her own apartment and work “downtown”. Kevin wants to sell his taxi service so that his very smart daughter can concentrate on her studies. Benny dreams of taking over the taxi service and marrying Nina after she graduates from Stanford. Daniela and Carla dream of opening up a salon outside of the neighborhood. Graffiti Pete wants to paint the entire neighborhood in grand style.

It is the Fourth of July weekend and the hottest days in memory. On closing shop, Usnavi discovers that he has sold a winning lottery ticket worth $96,000. Suddenly the dreams seem reachable for the entire neighborhood. It is Abuela Claudia who has the winning ticket which she is keeping a secret from everyone except Usnavi. There is a wonderful scene as we learn how Usnavi got his name.

Usnavi finally has a date with Vanessa (set up by Sonny) at the local dance club but things do not go as planned. Usnavi is awkward in a crowd so Vanessa dances with other men to get him jealous. In return, Usnavi dances with various women with the same purpose in mind. Tempers flair as a fight breaks out when suddenly all of the lights go dark in a citywide blackout.

This is truly a superb production with excellent casting and lots of stage experience. Joseph Morales as Usnavi comes from the national tour of “Hamilton”, Trinidad Snider as Abuela Claudia is the Artistic Director of Cleveland’s Near West Theatre, Addie Morales as Nina who was in the national tour of “Les Mis”, Baldwin Wallace University sophomore Gabriel Subervi as Sonny, Chibueze Ihuoma as Benny who was in the Broadway and national tour of “Hadestown”, Kayln West as Vanessa with Broadway and touring experience with “The Prom” and “Mean Girls”, Michelle Aravena as Camila who comes from Broadway shows “Beetlejuice”, “Rocky” and “Jersey Boys”, Rudy Martinez as Kevin who had regional roles in “Man of La Moncha”, “Evita” and “The Addams Family” and Shadia Fairuz as Daniela with Broadway and tour performances in “On Your Feet” with the rest of the cast made up with Edgar Cavazos, Aamar-Malik Culbreth, Courtland Davis, Valeria Flores, Alyssa V. Gomez, Reyna Guerra, Kirstin Angelina Henry, Lis Herrara, Ariella Kvashny, Liliana Rodriguez, Amy Romero, Kevin Solis and Arik Vega.

The Scenic Design by Diggle is superb with a distressed neighborhood look. Maria-Cristina Fusté’s lighting is varied and spot on. Music director Noah Landis and seven piece orchestra handles the collection of hip-hop, jazz, Broadway, Latin and pop without missing a beat. Choreographer Julio Agustin brings excitement to the stage with his many dance numbers and Sharath Patel tames the Allen Theatre’s space with a superb sound design.

Temps are heating up in this melting pot we call Cleveland and what better way to celebrate summer than to see this show. As the characters of the show would tell you...¡Que calor!

The Cleveland Play House production of “In The Heights” will be on stage in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square in downtown Cleveland through June 9, 2024. For more information and tickets go to or call (216) 400-7096.


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Who is Mark Horning?

Over the course of my life I have worked a variety of jobs including newspapers, retail camera sales and photography. Eight years ago I embarked on yet another career as writer. This included articles concerning sports and cultural events in Cleveland, Ohio as well reviews of the many theatrical productions around town. These days are spent photographing professional dance groups, theater companies and various galas and festivals as well as attending various stage performances and posting reviews about them.  

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