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Veteran ‘In the Heights’ collaborators ready to give Lin-Manuel Miranda musical a fresh spin

Charlie Orozco as Sonny and Sebastian Montenegro as Usnavi in San Diego Musical Theatre's "In the Heights."
Charlie Orozco as Sonny and Sebastian Montenegro in San Diego Musical Theatre’s “In the Heights.”
(San Diego Musical Theatre)

San Diego Musical Theatre director Carlos Mendoza and choreographer Laura Muñiz have both staged the Latin pop musical many times

When San Diego Musical Theatre announced plans to produce Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning, salsa-infused musical “In the Heights” this spring, it turned to some seasoned Latin musical pros to bring the story to life.

Carlos Mendoza directs San Diego Musical Theatre's "In the Heights."
(San Diego Musical Theatre)

Colombian-born director Carlos Mendoza has won awards for his choreography and direction of “In the Heights” productions at Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre, Music Theatre Wichita and at Performance Riverside. And Mexican American choreographer Laurie Muñiz has served as an assistant choreographer and co-choreographer for “In the Heights” productions at Moonlight, Performance Riverside and Wichita, as well as three other locations.

Laurie Muñiz is choreographer for San Diego Musical Thetare's "In the Heights."
(San Diego Muiscal Theatre)

Jill Townsend, artistic director of San Diego Musical Theatre, said having Mendoza and Muñiz, as well as music director Richard Dueñez Morrison, a Mexican American who grew up in San Diego, on board brings authenticity to the production opening May 6 at SDMT’s home theater in Kearny Mesa.

“We are thrilled to authentically tell this beautiful story with a Colombian director, a Mexican choreographer and music director, and a diverse cast from either Puerto Rico, Mexico, Colombia (and) El Salvador sprinkled with other wonderful ethnicities,” Townsend said. “With all the current global turmoil, this show reminds us how much our family and our community really matters.”

“In the Heights,” with a book written by playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, is the story of first- and second-generation Hispanic immigrants living in the rapidly changing New York City neighborhood of Washington Heights. The story was inspired by Miranda’s own parents, who immigrated from Puerto Rico and raised Lin-Manuel and his older sister, Luz, in the mostly Hispanic Manhattan neighborhood of Inwood.

The hair salon girls, led by Arianna Vila, left, in San Diego Musical Theatre's "In the Heights."
(San Diego Musical Theatre)

When it opened on Broadway in 2008, “In the Heights” broke new theatrical ground with its salsa rhythms, Latin pop sounds and rapped lyrics. It was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won Best Musical, Best Score, Best Orchestrations and Best Choreography. It also made Tony history when Miranda became the youngest-ever composer to win the Best Score award. Six years later, Miranda’s “Hamilton” would win 11 Tonys.

Mendoza said the story and music of “In the Heights” is a celebration of community.

“More than any other, this musical teaches us that community and family matter,” Mendoza said. “It reminds us that family is more than blood. Moreover, hoping and dreaming is essential to life. It celebrates love, Hispanic culture and its impact on our global community.”

The SDMT production will feature a cast of 24 actors, singers and dancers, led by Sebastian Montenegro as Usnavi, a Dominican immigrant who runs a struggling bodega in Washington Heights and dreams of one day returning to his native country. Charlie Orozco plays Usnavi’s cousin Sonny. Arianna Vila stars as Usnavi’s crush, the hairstylist Vanessa. Vanessa Orozco and Jordan Markus play Nina and Benny, teen sweethearts who reunite after Nina returns home from college. And Analia Romero plays Usnavi’s grandmother, Abuela Claudia.

‘In the Heights’

When: Opens May 6 and runs through June 5. Showtimes, 7 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays. 8 p.m. Fridays. 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2 p.m. Sundays.

Where: SDMT Stage, 4650 Mercury St., San Diego

Tickets: $40-$75

Phone: (858) 560-5740

Online: sdmt.org


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