IN THE HEIGHTS Opens at Axelrod Arts Center this Month
Lin-Manuel Miranda's first Broadway sensation "In the Heights" is coming to the Axelrod Performing Arts Center (APAC) on March 11, 2017, directed and choreographed by Luis Salgado from the original Broadway cast. Best known as the creator and star of "Hamilton," Miranda won his first Tony Award for the score to "In the Heights." With an Oscar nomination this season, he is close to becoming one ofthe few artists (living or dead) to sew up the art world's fourmajor prizes; Tony, Grammy and Pulitzer already sit on his shelf.
Working closely with "Hamilton" and "Heights" Tony Award-winning choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler, Luis Salgado was the Latin dance choreographer for the Broadway production and also created the role of Jose in the original cast. "My very first journey with this show was an explosion of pride through its movement as I worked next to Andy Blankenbuehler enhancing the choreographic authenticity in numbers like 'Carnaval' and the 'Club' among others."
Considered one of the foremost Latin dance specialists in the country, Salgado, working with a cast of 24 up-and-comingyoung professional actors, has been exploring the musical from the ground up. "Working with this cast is a very rewarding adventure... Not only have we explored and built this passionate musical but we have done it in a way where 'the process' has been the priority on every step of the journey, allowing a unique ownership of the character and community moments in the show."
Leading the cast is Jonathan Mousset portraying Usnavi de la Vega. Born of Venezuelan parents in Tampa, Fla., Mousset has been preparing to play the Lin-Manuel role for nearly a decade. "At the beginning I felt immense pressure in playing a role created by one of the most influential people of our generation. I've honestly been preparing for this moment since the cast recording came out in 2008, so the challenge has been letting go of this idea I've had of the character for so long and sincerely drawing from my own experiences, because this character IS me!"
The female lead, Elizabeth Ritacco, grew up in Toms River, NJ, and will be playing Nina Rosario. Like the other 23 members of the cast, Ritacco is making her APAC debut in "In the Heights" and has been loving the experience. "Within the first month of rehearsal, I had found that Luis has challenged me to find things within me that I never knew I was capable of. He encourages us all to embrace failure, to explore the humanity of every character and their relationships and to never stop connecting and playing with each other.... I've grown ten feet as a performer and as a person, and I have Luis and his huge heart to thank for all of it."
Salgado, a Puerto Rican American who lives in Manhattan, was honored to be a part of the original Broadway production team and cast and is thrilled to be sharing his own authentic vision of the show with NJ audiences. "For me, 'In the Heights' has always been a project of the heart. It elevates my spirit to know that a show honors my Latino community in a pure celebration of the people and heritage." Working with the APAC cast has enabled him to find new resonances in the story, the music and the dance. "It's in so many ways an ensemble dream piece the same way it was when I first experienced it. I really invite people to come take part of all the growth these actors are bringing with honesty to the stage."
Salgado's team includes assistant director-choreographer John Alix and associate director Valeria Cossu, musical director Walter "Bobby" McCoy, associate musical director David Maglione, production consultant Heather Hogan, set designer Andrew D'Agostino, lighting designer Robert Rutt, sound designer Gerry Gironda, costume designers Fred Mayo and Debra Thime and properties manager Susan Bloir. In addition to Jonathan Mousset (Usnavi) and Elizabeth Ritacco (Nina), the cast includes: Maité Uzal (Abuela Claudia), Laura Lebron (Vanessa), Jordan J. Adams (Benny), Matthew Oster (Sonny), Shadia Fairuz (Camila Rosario), José Fernando (Kevin Rosario), Tanya DeLeón (Daniela), Danelle Rivera (Carla), JoominHwang (Graffiti Pete) and Roberto Araujo (Piragua Guy) and ensemble members Joelle Anderson, Adam Bourque, Aaron Cobos, Miguel Flores, Myriam Gadri, Andre Malcolm, Marcel March, Bryan Ernesto Menjivar, Amaya Perea, Jenna Perez, Nathalia Raigosa and Susan Ramirez.
APAC Artistic Director Andrew DePrisco is responsible for putting together this production team and for assisting Salgado with casting the show. "I have never been prouder of a cast and production at the Axelrod. Luis is passionate and endlessly talented, giving his total commitment to this cast and show-an amazing feat when you consider he's currently in the cast of 'On Your Feet' on Broadway. He is simply the dream director for this show, and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful, dedicated cast. This predominantly Latino cast steals my heart at every rehearsal: they are here to tell their story. And that story is the American Dream, loving life in New York City and in America. The cast hails from Colombia, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Spain, as well as seven U.S. states. Joomin, our Graffiti Pete, is from South Korea! When we selected this musical, we didn't realize how resonant the story would be!"
The opening night audience will have the opportunity to meet director-choreographer Luis Salgado for a pre-show reception. "I am grateful," Salgado concludes, "that Axelrod theater will be the home to this magical production written by my friend, the young, talented musical theater icon Lin-Manuel Miranda. It's with the utmost respect that I take this journey and hope you all can come enjoy it with us...."
Produced by DePrisco and CEO Jess Levy, "In the Heights" opens on Saturday, March 11 and runs weekends through March 26. The theater is located at 100 Grant Avenue, Deal Park. Prices range from $25 for students to $38 (premium adult). For online purchases, visit www.axelrodartscenter.com. The box office is open Monday through Friday from 10 am to 3 pm: 732-531-9106, ext 14. The Axelrod offers ample free onsite parking and is completely handicap accessible.
Photo credit: Ari Romero