Family is not just about relatives. They may be people who connect because they live in the same neighborhood and care deeply for each other, like the residents of “In the Heights” portrayed in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning Best Musical. (The book belongs to Quiara Alegria Hudes).
The Marriott Theater, under the direction of James Vásquez, takes audiences to this neighborhood from January 24 to March 17.
Performances are on Wednesdays at 13:00 and 19:30, Thursdays at 19:30, Fridays at 20:00, Saturdays at 16:00 and 20:00, Sundays at 13:00 and 17:00, as well as select performances on Thursdays at 13:00 .
This is Vásquez’s third time directing “In the Heights.” “What was really exciting about this was that every time I did it it was done in a different area,” Vásquez said. “So it forced me to think about the show in a fresh new way.” His previous productions were in proscenium theater and proscenium stage. This time he is leading the tour.
“This show is about a community,” the director said. “This tour gives us the opportunity to really invite Lincolnshire audiences to become part of the neighbourhood.”
But there are also some difficulties.
“The show is held inside stores and outdoors, often with very fast parades. It’s been a fun challenge to figure out how the neighborhood works,” Vásquez said.
Although Washington Heights is a primarily Dominican community, Vásquez believes the residents’ stories are universal. “We all have an abuela – a grandmother – in our lives. We all have children in our lives that we root for. We have cousins who are like brothers,” Vásquez said. “And we also have a chosen family outside of our blood family.”
Joseph Morales plays Usnavi, the owner of a small kiosk who serves as the narrator. It’s a familiar part for Morales, who was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s understudy in his first Broadway National Tour and later took over the role.
“He is an ordinary person,” Morales said of Usnavi. “He is the leader of the society. He guides the audience through the story.”
The actor said caring for others — especially his abuela — makes him happy. Morales noted that Usnavi dreams of moving to the Dominican Republic and raising his family.
The role is interesting for Morales because “He’s the kind of guy I try to be in life,” he said. “He has an open heart. “He is optimistic in every situation and always does his best to do the right thing.”
Paola V. Hernández plays Vanessa, Usnavi’s long-distance love. “He finally started to gather the courage to take action,” Morales said.
“Usnavi brings comfort and respect,” Hernández said of his importance to Vanessa. But he has his own plans.
“She is a very strong woman who wants to keep dreaming,” Hernández said. “She is a very hot woman. She really wants to be successful and works hard for it.”
Vanessa works long hours at a salon, hoping to support her own apartment.
“He comes from a very toxic environment and he’s trying to let it go,” the actor said.
Hernandez discovered that she wasn’t that different from the character she played, and that she could actually learn something from Vanessa.
“The more I play these scenes and sing these songs, the more I fall in love with it,” Hernández said. “It teaches me how to keep going when it comes to dealing with a lot of things.”
Vásquez stated that the entire cast “lived and breathed this show and this story.” He added that the show was “a beautiful reminder about community and connection.”
When: 24 January – 17 March
Where: Marriott Theatre, Ten Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire
Information: 847-634-0200; marriotttheatre.com
Myrna Petlicki is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.