Review: City Springs  IN THE HEIGHTS soars into the Byers Theater

By Jody Key — Managing Editor

Sandy Springs – October 23, 2022

City Springs Theatre’s Season continues to sizzle with their latest offering, Lin Manuel Miranda’s IN THE HEIGHTS. While Lin Manuel spent time in the ATL making some campaign stops, City Springs was busy opening the show that contributed to catapulting him into the stratosphere. On opening night audiences were treated to a Tony-Winning show with a strong Salsa spoken word slant. This was a groundbreaking show in 2008 when it premiered on Broadway and continues to be a fan favorite 14 years later. 

The predecessor to HAMILTON, IN THE HEIGHTS (book by Quiara Alegria Hudes and musical score by Lin-Manuel Miranda) was honored with TonyAwards for Best Musical and Best Original Score. The character-driven story takes place over the course of 3 days set in Washington Heights, a Manhattan neighborhood with a Latino flavor. The script was adapted for the screen and premiered in movie theaters in the summer of 2021 where the focus was shifted from the main character, Usnavi De La Vega, deciding to stay rather than leave the neighborhood to him leaving and moving to the Dominican Republic as the neighbors were pushed out by gentrification. 

As always, City Springs produces a show that is larger than life and yet relatable to audience members of every walk of life. This was my 3rd time walking the streets of Washington Heights and meeting the colorful characters that inhabit the neighborhood where Usnavi (Marcello Audino) and his cousin Sonny (Emmanuel Cologne) run the family bodega. The Piragua Guy (Brian Montemoyer) pushes his cart peddling shaved ice desserts. Other characters include the foundation of the neighborhood, Abuela Claudia (Nicole Paloma Sarro); a proud mother and father, Kevin and Camila Rosario (Paul Aguirre and Celina Polanco) who own the local cab company and struggle to pay for their daughter Nina (Amanda Lopez) who is attending Stanford University. Nina returns for a visit and to break the news that she’s dropped out of school. Working at Rosario’s cab company is Benny (Kyle Robert Carter), the only character that doesn’t speak Spanish. He and Nina have a thing for each other.  The neighborhood wouldn’t be complete without the gossip served up by Vanessa (Erika Zade), Daniela (Lilliangina Quinones), and Carla (Rachel Zamorano Bonet), reminiscent of the “Pick a little talk a little” ladies of MUSIC MAN, but with a lot more brass and sass. While Vanessa works at Daniela’s salon, she dreams of leaving the neighborhood for what she feels will be a better life. Meanwhile, Usnavi crushes on Vanessa, too tongue-tied to ask her out, and Sonny finally negotiates a first date. One final character, Graffiti Pete (Davon Rashawn) opens the show and adds color to the streets. A strong ensemble (Lauryn Adams, Danny Iktomi Bevins, Monica Garcia Bradley, Steven Etienne, Jontavious Johnson, Estef Martin, Erin Rawlings, and La’Tina Rowe) rounds out the cast as they sing and dance their way through their beloved barrio.

When you walk into the Byers Theater at the Sandy Spring Performing Arts Center, you’ll be transported to this neighborhood just across the George Washington Bridge in Upper Manhattan. The stunning set imagined by scenic designer Anna Louizos is an authentic representation of NYC with the GW Bridge gracing the background. Lighting Designer Mike Wood adds the perfect tone to the neighborhood and brilliantly depicts the light of fireworks overhead throughout the theater. Director Natalie Caruncho along with Music Director Bert Rodriguez and Choreographer Leo Lam have done a brilliant job. The vocals, staging, and dancing were all superb and deserve a BRAVO!

City Springs never disappoints with its ability to bring in the big hitters, many of them having worked on Broadway or in National Tours. We warmly welcome Celina Palonco (Camila Rosario) and Paul Aguirre (Kenvin Rosario) to our humble neck of the woods and hope they find our appreciative audiences appealing as we’d like to see more of them in the future. 

It’s always a delight to see my dear friend, Marcello Audino, on stage in the Atlanta area, and his depiction of Usnavi is his best performance to date in my estimation (I think I may have said that about his Guys and Dolls performance a few weeks ago, so he has outdone himself!). As my theater students would say, “He slayed!” This is not an easy role to pull off, having originally been played by Lin-Manuel himself. Marcello didn’t miss a word or a beat and added his handsome charm and smooth-as-butter voice to the character as a bonus. 

I also have to say, “Way to represent, GTA!! (Gainesville Theater Alliance).” Not only is Marcello an Alum, but GTA graduate and hometown boy from Gainesville, Emmanuel Cologne, is adorable as Sonny. I first saw Emmanuel on the stage at Johnson High School in 2013 where my children perfected their theater skills and I apprenticed with the late, great Gail Jones. I knew then that he had something special, and I’ve seen him thrive and grow throughout the years. Great job Emmanuel–your Gainesville and Johnson fans are super proud!!

Rounding off the GTA trifecta is Brian Montemayor as the “Piragua Guy”. When Brian was at GTA he would spend time at my house with my oldest child, Genie, on the back deck eating my cooking (mostly mac-and-cheese) and singing with that beautiful voice. I was delighted to hear that amazing voice in all its magnificence as he pushed the iced dessert cart and added continuity to the show. Brian is a treasure and I’m glad City Springs saw in him what I knew he possessed several years ago.  

While I absolutely loved all the performances, Amanda Lopez as Nina and Kyle Robert Carter as Benny had such great chemistry, And Nicole Paloma Sarro as Abuela Claudia blew the roof off with her incredible vocal ability. Sarro has played the role 8 times, including on the national tour. Erika Zade as Vanessa might also look familiar as she has worked with Team Kelly on THE VOICE, and what a voice she has!! While the whole ensemble was brilliant, Lauryn Adams (ensemble and dance captain) was a standout in the dance numbers and my eyes were drawn to her in every dance scene. 

Having spent most of my life in New Mexico, I love anything that feels like home. The Latino culture of IN THE HEIGHTS makes me less homesick, and I love seeing our Hispanic community show the ATL what they’ve got!! This show is definitely a Speakeysie MUST SEE!!!! It’s worth every penny and then some. 

IN THE HEIGHTS runs until November 6th.

Get your tickets at before they sell out!!

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