By ANGELA PAUL, ’15
Maracas shook and strobe lights flashed in sync with the upbeat samba rhythms and actors’ moves, raps, and melodies in the JP Theatre Company’s Spring Musical, “In The Heights.” Portraying the spirited and vibrant characters of Dominican descent nestled in Washington Heights, cast members demonstrated the strength of friendship, despite the hardships that their characters had to surmount.
The theme song, “In the Heights,” kicked off the show as Usnavi De La Vega, a young bodega owner played by junior Kevin Zheng, rapped his way onto center stage. Shortly after, the plot introduced the rest of the jubilant characters in the community and their ambitions. Dancers clad in colorful clothes shuffled onto the stage and got the audience moving to the beat of the percussion instruments and the trumpets of the pit band. The cast members immediately engaged the audience and made a great first impression with their vocal skills. Freshman Krupa Chowski said, “The dance moves they pulled off were amazing! I could imagine the countless, tiresome rehearsals involved with the choreography. While watching, I got lost in the excitement and started humming along and tapping my feet to the tune. It was so exciting that I felt as if I were a part of the Washington Heights community that night.”
One of the most important “members” of the production was the set, which added to the play’s richness by creating diverse settings such as Usnavi’s Deli Store, the Rosario’s Car and Limousine building, and the next-door Salon. As freshman Art Crew member Mohana Biswas explained, “After the set was built, the crew members had to constantly add touch-ups and work in between rehearsals. It was the last show for our beloved artists, seniors Jordan Bardzwik and Megan Biespiel, so it was vital that the set was a display of the culmination of all the hard work we put in. We aimed to recreate every piece of the set to make it look as if it appeared on Broadway, and I think it is fair to say that our simulation was successful. We hope everyone enjoyed the art and the show.”
Special effects were also essential to some scenes. At the end of Act I, an impending danger struck the ghetto when a blackout left the characters’ homes in darkness, making them vulnerable to malicious thugs and criminals. As the performers chanted about being powerless, dissonant singing and dramatic drum beats compounded the fear. The tech crew also simulated fireworks; blue lights on stage flashed to vibrant mixes of pink, green, orange and red in perfect timing with the striking of the drum. Trumpets crescendoed to a big climax when a romance blossomed as Nina Rosario, played by junior Deanna Geritano, kissed her childhood friend Benny, played by senior Jesse Herman.
But as the characters battled the blackout onstage, the tech crew had to battle their own problems as well. Senior Michael Penzel explained the preparation for achieving the special effects. “We dedicated several days to hanging, positioning and syncing lights to get them where we wanted. There were quite a few complications with the lights because of where the set was located and the shadows it made, but after careful placement, we found the sweet spots thanks to our light expert, senior Jayne Marcinek.”
Through the characters in the play, the audience and actors learned about the importance of family and what it means to be a part of one. Reaffirming the central theme of the play, senior Dani Sall expressed, “This play made me thankful for the wonderful family I have — not only at home, but also in the JP Theatre Company. Family is really an emotional connection. The people that live on the Street Corner of Washington Heights all have the same pride and Latino blood pumping through their veins, reminding them that they are proud of their identity and that they are all connected as one.”
Washington Heights was not only a community, but also a family that helped each of its members grapple with new challenges. It is similar to the JP Theatre Company, a community of passionate students who are dedicated to the arts and a family that has willingly worked overtime to put shows together. Junior Ryan Wall, House Manager, Production Team Member, and Art Crew member of the JP Theatre Company said, “The spring musical is a labor of love. I think that the greatest thing about our company is the passion, diligence, and dedication of its members. For us, staying in school until 11:00 p.m. for weeks on end to finish the set, run lines, or choreograph dance numbers isn’t a chore; rather, it’s an opportunity to bond with our friends and turn nothingness into art.”