The heat in SpeakEasy Stage’s ‘In the Heights’ is a slow burn

The SpeakEasy Stage Company's production of "In the Heights" needs to kick it up a notch.
The SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of “In the Heights” needs to kick it up a notch.

The heat should be high at the Calderwood Pavilion now that “In the Heights” — a play that invokes both the jubilance and tension of summer in the inner city — has arrived. Unfortunately, the SpeakEasy Stage Company’s production of the Tony Award-winning musical only sizzles intermittently.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s tale of life on one tiny corner of Manhattan’s Washington Heights is rife with big, bold characters moving to a Latin beat as they desperately chase the American dream. The fiery immigrants live with passion in a community that values hard work, culture and family above all else.

While the younger generation embraces their heritage, they don’t share the dreams-fulfilled sentiment of their elders, longing to escape and elevate their lives.

Ironically, this generational divide is apparent in the performances as well. The seasoned actors embody their characters completely, while the struggle that a number of fledgling actors (many of whom are Boston Conservatory students) undergo to portray their roles is evident in their fractured performances.

Veteran actress Carolyn Saxon is so convincing (and vocally impressive) as block matriarch Abuela Claudia that she immediately gains a soft spot in the audience’s heart. Tony Castellanos and Nicole Paloma Sarro generate the production’s most authentic passion as Kevin and Camila Rosario, while Merissa Haddad provides great comic relief as local hairdresser, gossip and all-around spitfire Daniela.

Diego Klock-Perez (Uznavi) opens the show with a high-energy rap performance that sets the scene for the story, but his momentum flags a bit in the second act, when his lyrics get lost in the music. Jorge Barranco (Sonny) similarly flounders during a blackout scene but manages to rebound soon after with an inspired performance.

Vocally, though, the entire ensemble is spot on. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to bolster a show that should be impassioned from start to finish. Though Larry Sousa’s extraordinary choreography is properly executed, it lacks the passion and joy required to elevate the dancing from performance to celebration. It’s the party that makes “In the Heights” sizzle.

If You Go

“In the Heights”
Through June 16
Boston Center for the Arts
539 Tremont St., Boston
$25-$62, 617-933-8600
SpeakEasyStage.com



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