In the Heights, SpeakEasy Stage Company, Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center for the Arts, extended through June 30. 617- 933-8600 or bostontheatrescene.com
The values of home and family dominate the 2008 Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights”, now dancing to the rafters in a fiery SpeakEasy Stage Company production at the Boston Center for the Arts’ Calderwood Pavilion. Jenna McFarland Lord’s vivid design for the show’s 183rd Street, Upper Manhattan setting even wraps theatergoers in the appealing feel of the neighborhood—with local store signs on both sides of the audience. The show clearly embraces the family as neighborhood motif central to both “Rent” and “Avenue Q.” At the same time, gentrification threatens the musical’s atmospheric local Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican enterprises. Not surprisingly, various characters struggle to achieve their respective dreams in the shadow of that gentrification and experience a real sense of being at home in the barrio.
The individual stories of the neighborhood characters- particularly thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s catchy salsa and rap-rich score—are compelling. SpeakEasy Stage artistic director Paul Daigneault keeps the musical’s daunting repertoire of characters well defined and represented. Diego Klock-Perez brings the right combination of energy and hopefulness to coffee place owner Usnavi’s expository rap in the title opening number and all of his scenes. Alessandra Valea communicates all of his potential girlfriend Vanessa’s alluring spirit as well as her continuing frustrations about moving away from her alcoholic mother to the Village. Jorge Barranco finds all of the humor, resourcefulness and caring of Usnavi’s younger and somewhat vulnerable cousin Sonny. Tony Castellanos has all of Kevin’s over protectiveness towards daughter Nina, and Nicole Paloma Sarro proves viscerally strong defending earnest Benny and the love their daughter feels for him.
Jared Dixon displays rich tone as non-Hispanic Benny. His Spanish lesson sequence with Santina Umbach- who captures Nina’s evolving feelings about studying at Stanford and her own self-worth, and their love duet are equally affecting. Merissa Haddad has the attitude and quick timing of Rita Moreno in “West Side Story” as acerbic but insightful salon owner Daniela. Best of all is Carolyn Saxon, whose heartfelt portrayal of mentoring Abuela Claudia always evokes the power and poetry of family memories. Saxon’s delivery of Claudia’s signature number “Pacienca y Fe” (“Patience and Faith”) has all of the impact of an anthem.
Also anchoring the SpeakEasy staging is Larry Sousa’s smartly blocked choreography. A hair salon quartet “No Me Diga” has the same mixture of vitality and snappiness the “America” number evokes in “West Side Story.” The “Carnaval del Barrio” gives Haddad electric moments as Daniela and the entire company ample opportunities to demonstrate the exuberance and the solidarity of the neighborhood. The exuberance of the musicians may sometimes vie with voices in the early going, but music director Nicholas James Connell eventually establishes an effective balance.
Usnavi invokes “L’Chaim” as he and Benny engage in good-natured club banter. SpeakEasy Stage brings the same kind of heartiness to the home-centered spirits of “In the Heights.”
The Sound of Music, North Shore Music Theatre, Beverly, through June 23. 978-232-7200 or nsmt.org
James Beaman knows the power of anti-Semitism and hate all too well. As the 47 year old out actor and Beverly native recently admitted “I was ostracized in public school as a Jew and as a gay. I was relentlessly bullied. I was a whipping boy.” The bullying became so bad that he actually entered college at the age of 15. Now Beaman is tapping into both pride of heritage and traumatic childhood memories in his return to the North Shore Music Theatre (after appearing in last season’s multiple IRNE Award-winning Guys and Dolls”) as Max Detweiler in the company’s season-opening revival of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical classic “The Sound of Music.”
Speaking of the serious side of the show-which is set in 1938 as the Nazis have occupied and annexed Austria, Beaman remarked, “We think of it now as a family musical, but there is this message (about not looking the other way). “ Director-choreographer James Brennan clearly accentuates that seriousness in both the look of the NSMT production and the forcefulness of the performances. Audience members will find the you-are-there effect chilling as red banners with large swastikas-credit designer Jeff Modereger- unfurl in the round for the concert hall festival from which the von Trapps escape. Costume coordinator Paula Peasley Ninestein provides Nazi brown shirts as well as smartly exaggerated ethnic outfits for the musical competition. The buffoon-like runners-up may call to mind the deliberate satire Chaplin achieved in his brilliant anti-Nazi film “The Great Dictator.”
Brennan makes the contrast between the lighter-hearted moments when governess Maria teaches the children songs, the elegant waltz at the Trapp villa party and the tough moments of Nazi strong-arming striking and revealing. Lisa O’Hare— brings vibrancy to all of her songs and great spirit to the role of postulant turned wife Maria. David Andrew MacDonald moves convincingly from tough love Captain to emotionally rich husband and father as Georg. James Beaman sharply balances Max Detweiler’s charm and wit with his alarming complacency about the Anschluss and the Third Reich. Jacquelynne Fontaine smartly underplays Elsa’s seeming indifference to the Anschluss. The actors playing the von Trapp children capture their innocence as well as their vulnerability. Suzanne Ishee as Mother Abbess delivers the stirring “Climb Every Mountain” with soaring high notes. North Shore Music Theatre’s wisely edgy revival is a timely reminder of the tuneful musical’s call for action against anti-Semitism and all hate.
Chicago, Reagle Music Theatre, Waltham, through June 23. 781-891-5600 or reaglemusictheatre.com
Fans of “Chicago” know that prescient musical is potent and always timely in its sharp portrait of its title city as a corrupt 1920’s metropolis and a metaphor for a scandal-obsessed society in which news stories about adultery, violence and crime blur into entertainment. Director- choreographer Gerry McIntyre makes the Reagle Music Theatre’s 45th season-opening revival of this Kander and Ebb masterwork catch fire when it really captures the Bob Fosse arm and leg trademark moves that he means to evoke. That kind of sizzle kicks in most notably in “Cell Block Tango,” where female prisoners defend in dance the killing of husbands or partners they catch with other women and/or men. Sara Gettelfinger proves tough if not razor sharp as cynical prisoner Velma, and Angie Schworer finds much of sweet-voiced Roxie’s manipulative charm. As for their singing-in solo and duet-both could take a lesson from Rick Pessagno, who brings robust and fully confident deliveries to the fan-dance rich “All I Care About” and the blingy “Razzle Dazzle.” Peter Mill is a standout as Mary Sunshine, not only in richly delivering this reporter’s high notes on “A Little Bit of Good” but also in fully developing this cross-dressing character.