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SpeakEasy Stage Company’s “In The Heights” presents vibrant portrayal of changing neighborhood

Susan Saccoccia | 5/29/2013, 9:55 a.m.
Diego Klock-Perez (center) plays Usnavi, bodega owner and street-corner poet, in the SpeakEasy Stage Company?s production of ?In the Heights.?

Elisabetta Polito designed the cast’s colorful summer street wear, well-suited to the story, which unfolds before, during and just after New York’s 4th of July celebration.

The gifted Santina Umbach plays Nina, the Stanford student. Her parents, who own a taxi dispatch service are Kevin, a touching Tony Castellanos, and Camila, the warm Nicole Paloma Sarro.

Nina’s love interest, Benny, is a young black man practically adopted by her parents, who employ him and teach him a bit of Spanish. Actor Jared Dixon does his best with the built-in contradictions of his character, a gentle and optimistic striver who then turns on Nina despite her loyalty to him.

Underscoring the musical’s message that each person matters, everyone on the cast gets a chance to shine. Piragua Guy (Anthony Alfaro) sings an aria while wheeling his cart of flavored ices. Graffiti Pete (Sean Jones) earns Usnavi’s ire by tagging his shop’s grate, but later wins his admiration. Ensemble members Christian Bufford, Sarah Crane, Lauren Csete, Melanie Porras, Chris Ramirez and Adrian Ruz turn the stage into a block party with their nimble dancing.

At first, Diego Klock-Perez is a credible but subdued Usnavi. But he lets his character change in the course of the play. In a charged dance scene, he picks a fight with a competitor for Vanessa’s attentions. And in the production’s finale, as Usnavi finds his voice and recognizes what he’s meant to do, Klock-Perez delivers the news with power in the sing-song poetry of rap. He chants, “Yeah, I’m a streetlight, chillin in the heat. I illuminate the stories of the people in the street.”