Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

In the HeightsWestcoast Black Theatre Troupe
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's review of Anna in the Tropics

Michael Mendez
Photo by Vutti Photography
Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe opens its 2017-18 season with Lin-Manuel Miranda's In the Heights (book by Quiara Alegria Hudes). This is the first time the company has presented a production not focused on African Americans. How Lin-Manuel Miranda writes is not a perfect fit with how my ears hear, an even bigger problem with his mega-hit Hamilton, so this musical is never going to be one of my favorites, but still I admire its warmth and how it shows the love of family groups which then grows into an organic loving community. The songs hover between a rap idiom, which eludes me, and an old-fashioned Broadway sound which I relate to more strongly.

Company favorite Michael Mendez leads the cast as Usnavi De La Vega, a role that fits him physically and plays to his great talents. While the role is central to much of the emotional underpinnings, this is still an ensemble show, with all the supporting roles about equal in size. Most of the more important supporting parts are played by performers new to WBTT's stage. Matthew Curtis as Kevin Rosario sings strongly, making his "Inútil" (Useless) powerful. Emily Barnash as Kevin's wife Camila is equally strong, forming a deeply loving family able to stand up to and overcome a major disappointment. Nina Negron plays their daughter, Nina opposite Brian L. Boyd as Benny, her love interest. Marissa Buchheit plays Vanessa, who has caught Usnavi's eye, even though they can't seem to do much about it. Maite Uzal plays Abuela (Grandmother) Claudia, perhaps a little young for this role, but still emotionally rich. The third "family" is Renata Eastlick as beauty shop owner Daniela and Khadija Sallet as her sidekick Daniela.

Michael Kinsey brings gravitas to Piragua Guy as well as an outstanding bass/baritone that I would like to hear in a whole evening of song. In smaller parts doing fine comic work are Raleigh Mosely II as Graffiti Pete and Troy D. Wallace as Sonny. An ensemble consisting of Sydney Warner, Chakara Rosa, Derric Gobourne, Jr., Arthur Wesley, Brentney Stephens and Donald Frison liven things up with their dancing and presence.

Jim Weaver directs with a solid hand. He blends some new performers into an established family of actors and creates a vibrant, loving community on stage. Every performer on the stage scores strongly, a testament to both the material and the director. This is as fine a production of In the Heights as I expect to see. Music direction by Thomas Craig Buckley is always lively. Sets by Donna and Mark Buckalter, costumes by David Wallker, and lighting by Michael Paquini are all up to the new normal that I expect to see on this company's stage. Regulars Shane Streight (technical director), James E. Dodge II (production manager), Juanita Munford (production stage manager), Annette Breazeale (property master) are joined by newcomer Joyce Ward (wig design) doing their always excellent jobs.

Can't score tickets for Hamilton anywhere it is playing (it doesn't hit Tampa for another year)? In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's earlier musical, is playing in a really lively production by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe—a great opener for their season.

In the Heights presented by Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe, through November 19, 2017, at 1646 Nate Jacobs Way, Sarasota FL. For more information, visit

Cast: Usnavi De La Vega: Michael Mendez*
Graffiti Pete: Raleigh Mosely II
Piragua Guy: Michael KinseyAbuela Claudia: Maite Uzal
Kevin Rosario: Matthew Curtis
Camila Rosario: Emily Barnash
Daniela: Renata Eastlick*
Carla: Khadija Sallet
Sonny: Troy D. Wallace
Benny: Brian L. Boyd
Vanessa: Marissa Buchheit
Nina Rosario: Nina Negron*
Ensemble Cast: Sydney Warner
Chakara Rosa
Derric Gobourne, Jr
Arthur Wesley
Brentney Stephens
Donald Frison
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association