Soaring High

SRJC's 'In the Heights' is joyous perfection

In the Heights, the 2008 Tony-winner from a pre-Hamilton Lin-Manuel Miranda, may not be as famous as that game-changing “historical hip-hop musical.” And it may not feature tunes as catchy and hummable as those Miranda wrote for the animated Disney film Moana.

But in many ways, In the Heights—a simple tale of a multicultural NYC neighborhood dealing with the aftermath of a massive Fourth of July power outage—is a far more joyous, sweet-natured, inspiring and exuberant experience than either of Miranda’s other works.

Currently running at Santa Rosa Junior College’s Burbank Auditorium, this vibrant show has all the hallmarks of a Lin-Manuel Miranda production: hip-hop and rap fused with other musical traditions (salsa a big one here), a no-apologies celebration of immigrant culture and tunes that challenge and showcase the talents of the performers entrusted to sing them. Under the delightfully detailed direction of John Shillington, with expert musical direction by Janis Wilson, a stunningly good cast of 32 performers brings New York’s Washington Heights to bustling, believable life.

As dawn breaks on what will become a record-hot day, Usnavi (a charming Joseph Miranda) is opening his tiny bodega, where he scratches out a living selling coffee and lottery tickets, all the while dreaming of someday moving to the Dominican Republic, from which his late parents emigrated. Meanwhile, neighborhood hero Nina (Jenna Vice, alternating with Katerina Flores) has returned from Stanford University bearing bad news. She’s just dropped out, sharply disappointing her proud parents (Evan Espinoza and Julia Kaplan). They own the local taxi service, where big-dreaming Benny (Cooper Bennett), who’s always had a thing for Nina, now works.

During that evening’s fireworks display, stunningly staged with the use of dazzling projections, the neighborhood’s lights suddenly go out. This sets in motion a series of events that will further challenge Benny, Nina, Usnavi and Vanessa, along with all the other residents of Washington Heights.

The sheer talent on display throughout the SRJC’s must-see production is vividly remarkable, a true celebration of the richness and promise of Sonoma County’s diverse, incredibly gifted young artistic community.

Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½