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Annapolis Summer Garden Theater’s In the Heights

Qué Calor! 

Photo by Alison Harbaugh for Sugar Farm Productions.

         The hottest thing in Annapolis these days isn’t the weather but Lin Manuel-Miranda’s In the Heights, playing through Memorial Day weekend at The Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre. Under the direction of Darnell Patrick Morris, the same guy who brought us Avenue Q and Hair Spray, this production is so outstanding it’s easy see why the Hamilton composer’s show won the 2008 Tony for Best Musical. Here at the confluence of rap, salsa and Latin pop, the American dream meets exotic choreography in New York City’s Dominican barrio to produce a story that transcends race, age and economic status.

            Everyone has a dream. Usnavi de la Vega (Tim German) runs a shabby bodega where the locals buy their cafe con leche and lottery tickets, but he dreams of returning to a homeland he hasn’t seen since infancy. He lives with Abuela Claudia (Cynthia Bolin), an aunt in name only who raised him and keeps a watchful eye on the neighborhood.

            Young cousin Sonny (Anthony Johnson) is a wannabe anarchist who sometimes helps around the shop but is most instrumental in facilitating his romance with his longtime crush, the beautiful Vanessa (Christin Wright). Vanessa, burdened with her mother’s debts, dreams of nicer digs uptown while working at the salon next door with Daniela (Mayumi Griffe) and Carla (Alli Musser).

            Meanwhile, Nina Rosario (Julia Salatti), the golden girl who made it to Stanford but secretly dropped out when she couldn’t juggle two jobs and her studies, is afraid to tell her parents, Camila (Nikki Arbiter-Murphy) and Kevin (Steve Castrodad), son of a cane cutter, who run a stalled limo business. The only gringo on the block, Benny (Cory Jeweler), works for them while dreaming of business school and their daughter.

            Add to them the Piragua Guy (Tobias A. Young), an ebullient snow cone vendor who wants only to freeze out the competition, and Graffiti Pete (Ronald Rios), who is just looking for his next canvas.

            When Usnavi sells a winning ticket worth $96,000, all realize that someone’s life is about to change big time.

            This multi-cultural cast is fantastic, triple threats all. German is a sympathetic lead who raps with ease. Golden girl Salatti and gringo Jeweler make a charming couple, visually and vocally electric in their romantic Sunrise. Wright is a stunner in It Won’t Be Long Now, and Bolin radiates compassion in Paciencia y Fe. For sheer vocal WOW factor, no one makes such a joyful noise as Young in Piragua.

            The set and costumes are so realistic you’d swear you were there. The place exudes depth — not just geographically, with shadowy alleys, balconies and graffitied shops — but also culturally, with colors and accents so vivid you hear the percussive rhythm of life and almost smell the tostones. Technically, this show goes off without a hitch to spoil it.

            With universal themes of family values and hard work, this is a show teens will enjoy as well as their parents and grandparents, though parental discretion is advised. It’s both edgy and suggestive yet tenderly focused on the relationships that see us through life’s trials. The only hotter ticket this month might be for a flight to Havana.

            Two and a half hours with intermission. With the most amazing ensemble of Carlotta Capuano, Amanda Cimaglia, Ashley Gladden, Alli Musser, Arkeem Pearson, Jorge Rodriguez and Morgan Thomas.

In the Heights by Lin Manuel-Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes. Director: Darnell Patrick Morris. Music director: Chris Pinder. Choreographer: Eben K. Logan. Stage manager: Magdalene Urban. Production manager and dialect coach: Kyle Eshom. Set: James Raymond. Costumer: Caitlin Martinez. Lights: Matthew Tillett. Sound: Lindsey Cohen. Musicians: Ken Kimble, Trent Goldsmith, Reid Bowman, Chris Mercado, Chris Pinder, William Georg, Randy Neilson, Paul Pesnell, Rich Estrin and Allyson Wesley.

Playing thru Sept. 3, Th-Su at 8:30pm,  Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre, 143 Compromise St., Annapolis. $25; rsvp 410-268-9212;