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At Live Arts, third time's the charm for teen cast of 'In the Heights'

At Live Arts, third time's the charm for teen cast of 'In the Heights'

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The cast and crew of Live Arts Teen Theater Ensemble’s production of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights” originally expected to present their musical indoors at Live Arts, as usual.

Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Auditions, casting and rehearsals were delayed until May and took place completely online while the team prepared for outdoor performances at IX Art Park. Then, plans changed again as numbers of local COVID-19 cases began to grow and organizers worried that even the careful plans for social distancing and other safety measures wouldn’t be enough to prevent cancellations.

The third time seems to be the charm. Charlottesville audiences will see the musical at 7 p.m. Aug. 13, 14, 15 and 16 in an online run, thanks to Zoom video webinar technology and a resilient team that has taken the show’s lessons of community and perseverance to heart.

“This is our third version. It’s just another adaptation we’ve had to make,” director Rebecca Aparicio said. “The students are adapting, too. We’re asking a lot of them, and they’re coming through.”

Aparicio said the timing couldn’t be better for a 2005 show that has “this incredible sense of urgency” in 2020. The combination of the COVID-19 pandemic — and the cobbling together of a safer-in-place lifestyle amid closed schools and disrupted jobs it required — and the widespread focus on dismantling generations of racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd on May 25 have amplified the show’s themes of immigration, identity, gentrification and lifting one’s voice when it matters most.

“It could not be more made for this moment,” the director said. “I think the timeliness of the script is something I knew would be apparent.”

The musical also reaches fans at a time when a long-awaited film adaptation of the Broadway hit “Hamilton” has brought Miranda and his work to new audiences across the country.

The Tony Award-winning musical unfolds over three hot summer days in the primarily Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City. Audience members learn about the struggles of Usnavi, the owner of a small bodega; Nina, a college student who dreads sharing disappointing news with the parents who’ve toiled and sacrificed to help her attend; and their community members and friends.

Aparicio said “In the Heights,” which includes music and lyrics by Miranda and book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is a good choice for teen actors. “This generation, more than ever, understands what it means to be an active member of society in community,” she said.

“In the Heights” offers characters “who look like them,” Aparicio said. “It’s people in real-life situations. Whatever your dreams are, going for them. I think it really speaks to the whole experience.”

Many moments in the show resonated with the cast in fresh ways in light of current events. The song “96,000,” in which characters reflect on the news that a lottery ticket worth $96,000 has been sold at Usnavi’s bodega, spends a verse on the value of investing in protesting.

As anyone who has been attending Zoom meetings during the pandemic can understand, performing a musical using Zoom presents some distinct challenges.

“The musical numbers all have to be pre-recorded,” Aparicio said. “They also can’t use the audio that comes with the video, so they’re having to record themselves. We’re basically asking them to do film production at home, and they’re rising to the challenge.”

Actors selected costume elements from their own closets instead of coming to the theater for fittings. “It’s a true collaboration,” their director said proudly. “And they sound just like the Broadway production.”

The cast of “In the Heights” includes Joshua St. Hill as Usnavi, Jaylan Garcia as Sonny, Charlotte Caldejon as Nina, Thaddeus Lane as Benny, Christina Cooper as Daniella, Chloe Rogers as Carla, Sara Lainez as Vanessa, Lauren Pierce as Graffiti Pete, Matty Ward as Piragua Guy, Jakobh McHone as Kevin, Riley Gonzalez as Camila and Natacha Jacques as Abuela. The Ensemble includes Dorothy Briggs, Aneesa Chandra, Marcus Dowd, Heaven Fleming-Bryant, Anthony Hearn and Ezra Smith.

Musical director Michael Salvatierra leads the band, which includes Abby Smith on keys and woodwinds, Thomas Castleman on drums, Horace Scruggs on bass and Solomon Goluboff-Shragger on guitar.

On the production team with Aparicio are producer Kristin Wenger, assistant director Jessica Harris, assistant to the musical director Kristin Baltes, choreographer Heaven Fleming-Bryant, stage manager Denise Folley, assistant stage manager Shannon Montague, set designer Dan Feigert, associate set designer Marietta Feigert and costume designer Dakota Duncan.

Tickets have a suggested price of $15 and can be purchased on a pay-what-you can basis, so don’t let cost or technology access hurdles keep you away. Reserve your space at a livestreamed online performance by going to livearts.org or calling (434) 977-4177, Ext, 123.

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