Living & Dancing for Life in the 'Hood

Casa 0101's Production of the Tony Award winning musical "In the Heights" is another gift of Art to Aztlan

By Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor
Published on LatinoLA: November 25, 2013

Living & Dancing for Life in the 'Hood

As I write this, the recent music & performance of Rigo Tejada's smash Tony Award winning musical play "In the Heights" resonates in my mind the morning after.

West Side Story meets Zoot Suit in East L.A. !.

I had heard commercials and positive reviews about the successful run of "In the Heights" at the Civics Arts Plaza Theater in Thousand Oaks earlier this year, so when publicist Steve Moyer invited my Lady & I to come check out the show in Boyle Height's CASA 0101 Theater on a Saturday night, we jumped at the chance.

As I've written before, CASA 0101 Theater on 1st street in the heart of East Los Angeles has become a mecca for well produced & tasteful Latino flavored plays & musicals reflecting the life, love, drama, heartache, and victory of the Latino community in which it exists, while doubling as a tasteful contemporary Art Gallery that has hosted some of the most wonderfully produced stage dramas rivaling any in the Country today.

The art of theater is alive and well !

On this, my fourth privileged visit to CASA 0101,we joined a full house audience as this very special assembled cast of 24 members, supported by an outstanding production crew and band lit up the stage from the opening sizzling dance number, and kept us all enthralled and absorbed till the warm ending (and well-earned standing ovation).

Centering around a close, small Dominican/Cuban/Puerto Rican neighborhood in Washington Heights, New York, during 3 days of a hot sweltering Summer , three small neighborhood businesses and tenants of a small tenement building face the haunting specter of gentrification and the rising cost of living while struggling to survive in today's troubling economy..

Three small interconnected subplots develop, portrayed through some VERY impressive musical numbers of original songs with dazzling choreography along with some well acted dramatic scenes, that reflect life in the 'hood, with a conflicting sense of ambivalence of wanting to leave for a better life, and a yearning to stay connected to a sense of home & community.

In L.A. , we have a paleta man and raspada man...in Washington Heights, New York, we got a piragua guy...same mission...and a happy comforting soul is he "In the Heights" !

Nina, the neighborhood heroine, returns from California, where she had won a scholarship to Stanford University, returning home to her parent's failing limousine service and a neighborhood hero's welcome...until she confesses that she had dropped out months earlier due to her inability to keep up her grades while supporting herself in California's slipping economy.

She finds solace in the arms of Benny, a Black employee of her parent's business whom she has known for years, much to the chagrin of her father Kevin Rosario, the immigrant son of a Puerto Rican farmer, who feels Benny is not good enough for his daughter because of his inability to speak Spanish and understand the Puerto Rican culture..so they run away together...

Usnavi De La Vega, son of Cuban-Dominican immigrants and who's unique name comes from his mother reading " U.S. Navy" on a passing ship while she was immigrating to the United States, runs a small grocery store and helps support Abuela Claudia, an aging woman who lives in melancholy & regret from having not fulfilled her dreams from the 1940's, and is now supported by her grandson who is facing rising rents on both his store and apartment while harboring a forlorn crush on a beautiful girl who works at the beauty parlor next door... and one who has her own issues.

The beautiful and vibrant Daniella and Carla run the beauty parlor, and are always helping a third employee, Vanessa, deal with issues surrounding her alcoholic mother, but now face closure & eviction, or moving to a lower rent district in the Bronx..."from the 'hood to the ghetto" Daniella laments.

After a vibrant nightclub party scene, where everybody in the Barrio seems to come together after getting involved in dancing together, then breaking up a drunken fight on the dance floor ( one of the more tantalizing & arousing scenes of the play), the neighborhood gets a sudden jolt in the arm when Abuela wins the lottery, and starts announcing plans to help " fix everything"....

...just when it seems we're heading for a happy ending, a sudden death among this group of characters suddenly occurs that brings them all together for a solemn moment of reckoning and re-prioritizing of their lives...

..AND THAT's where I leave you, to go out and see his colorful, tasteful, and well performed musical drama at the CASA 0101 Theater.

"In the Heights" is one of the more memorable theatrical experience of the Arts of music, dancing, and drama you will find today. It simply "fits".

CASA 0101 and TEATRO NUEVOS HORIZONTES have once again bestowed Los Angeles and the West Coast with yet another unforgettable gift of Art, and the cast & crew of "In the Heights" deserve accolades for a performance well done.

Like "West Side Story" and "Zoot Suit", this would make a fine movie reflecting a period of Americana & culture for future generations...and I'd be one of the first in line at a movie house when this happens !

"In the Heights" runs until December 22nd . For info on this, and other great live stage performances, go to:www.casa0101.org or call 323-263-7684. Also found on Facebook CASA 0101 Theater.

Tell 'em you heard it from LatinoLA.com...and we'll see YOU at the Theater!

About Frankie Firme, Contributing Editor:
Frankie Firme joins LatinoLA in supporting the rich culture and artistic endeavors of CASA 0101 and our Latino community to help insure a legacy of storytellers who will someday transform the World for generations to come.
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