All I can say is wow — this was the best show I’ve seen all summer and maybe all year. The setting is the Hispanic Washington Heights community in New York, but the themes and characters are universal. The production is sheer perfection with superlative acting, singing and dancing. It will make you laugh and cry and want to dance. The orchestra is flawless; the set, lighting, sound and costumes make this a total theater package. This is a must-see, New York-quality production.
Director L J Fecho has put together a dream cast to deliver the Tony Award-winning music of Lin-Manuel Miranda who has practically become a household name since the huge success of “Hamilton” this year.
At the heart of the story is Usnavi, a quiet young man who runs a bodega in a vibrant, but changing Hispanic community in Manhattan and Adalberto “Albert” Garcia Jr. puts so much heart into his performance that the audience is instantly routing for him — in business and in love. He is surrounded by family and friends that are so well defined by his fellow actors that there is a palpable bond and a believable community.
Ashley Calderon plays Nina Rosario, a young woman who was the neighborhood’s Most Likely to Succeed, who has returned home after leaving Stanford. Calderon was born to play this role. She has an exquisite soprano voice that brings both passion and tenderness into songs like “Breathe,” “When You’re Home,” “Everything I Know,” and “When the Sun Goes Down.” The latter is a haunting duet with DeShaun Williams as Benny, her love interest, much to the displeasure of her parents, played by Nicholas Freer and Kelly Moray.
Freer has been seen in numerous shows at Genesius including
“Picasso at the Lapine Agile” and “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” but in this one he proves he’s much more than a top notch comedic actor, he gets to show off his vocal talent in ballads like “Inutil” (Useless) and “Atención.”
Kelly Moray plays his wife, Camilla, and is doing a fine job of it in the first act. Then in the second, she explodes into the powerful, emotion-packed “Enough,” and makes an indelible moment in this production.
Another key factor in the plot is Abuela Claudia, played with her usual finesse and powerful voice by Davina Lopez She is the consummate grandmother figure, endearing herself to the audience. Her scenes with her grandsons, Usnavi and Sonny are memorable. She delivers one of the most memorable songs from the show, “ Paciencia y Fe” (Patience and Faith) with eloquence and passion.
Sonny is played by Miguel Rivera, soon to be a sophomore at Reading High School, he is a newcomer to Genesius. He demonstrated a real gift for comedy and I think we’ll be seeing a lot more of him.
Cecilia Cooper plays Vanessa, the young woman that Usnavi is infatuated with, and shows over her vocal talent in numerous numbers, including “It Won’t Be Long Now” and “Champagne.”
Adding flair and comic relief through songs, dialogue and gestures are Yesenia Mora as Daniela, Lyndsey Bosold Hinkle as Carla who work at the neighborhood salon, and Joey Moray as Piraguero Guy, whose business is suffering due to a nearby Mr. Softee.
Jeffrey Fleming as Graffiti Pete, uses some interesting dance moves to set the tone for the show.
The ensemble includes numerous talented singers and dancers who energize the entire room with the sounds, rhythm and moves of Washington Heights. They are Marie “Susie” DeBooth, Paulina Cevallos, Anthony Disla, Ashleigh Gantert, Mikaela Krall, Kennedi Kutz, Sophia Mattes, Julian Morales, Sani Pereira, Tyler Ravert, Juan Santiago, Jason DuVerge, Alison Wise, Xiomara Young, Alexis Frutos, Esmeralda Manon, Alexia Morales, Justina Rodriguez, Aliyah Vargas, and Alyzza Vera.
Fecho is both director and producer for this show, with Kevin Cooper as musical director.
The intricate and exciting choreography, which includes Latin salsa, hip-hop, ballet and jazz , was created by Wanda Holdren of Wanda Holdren Dance Studio and the Latin Flair Dancers, with assistance from Samantha Lins (Latin) and Jericho Joy of Monarch Dance Studio (jazz/hiphop).
The set was designed by L J Fecho and John Bigos; lights designed by Fecho and Spencer Moss Fecho;
and costumes coordinated by Dara Himes.
This Pulitzer finalist and Tony Award-winning show runs through Aug. 14 at Genesius, 153 North 10th St. in Reading. Remaining performances are Aug. 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m. with a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday Aug. 14. A Saturday matinee may also be added since many shows are selling out. Tickets are $28.50/$22.50/$17.50. For tickets, visit www.genesiusdifference.org; or call 610-373-9500. Card fees apply. For additional information call 610-371-8151. Tickets may also be available at the door.
The play is rated PG for minor adult themes (ages 9 on up).
Genesius Theatre is handicapped accessible and there is free parking (limited spaces available) next to the theater. For more information, call the theater at 610-371-8151.