In The Heights

by hannahBENSON, ’15

Cast of 2014 musical In The Heights is optimistic despite external pressures

“Take a train to the top of the world, and I’m there / I’m home.” Thus ends In The Heights, the exuberant musical that UAHS is set to perform this February.

The four-time Tony Award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee centers around a group of characters living in the neighborhood of Washington Heights. The story opens with Nina Rosario, portrayed by senior Ruba Elzein, who returns to Washington Heights after dropping out of Stanford University. It concludes when main character Usnavi De La Vega, played by senior Givi Garcia, who previously longed to leave America and return to the Dominican Republic, realizes that Washington Heights is his true home.

Junior ensemble member Jack O’Brien believes optimism in the cast is running high.

“The talent this year is phenomenal,” O’Brien said. “We have an extremely strong chorus as well as a strong group of leads who each were perfectly casted for their parts.”

Elzein is also excited about the cast.

“I think it’s an extremely hard-working, enthusiastic and talented cast,” Elzein said. “I think everyone… [is] excited to get the show started.”

The cast will not allow pressure from being the first school in Ohio to perform this show to distract them. O’Brien hopes to set the expectations high for all other high school productions of In The Heights.

“There is some pressure to be the first, but I’m confident that, with such a talented cast, we will put on an extraordinary show that sets a great precedent for all other productions in Ohio,” O’Brien said.

Garcia feels that expectations set by previous UAHS productions cause the most pressure.

“I don’t think there is really any extra pressure from us being the first school to do it in Ohio,” Garcia said. “I think the pressure comes from the expectation of how great our productions always turn out and keeping that expectation… alive.”

To secure their roles, the cast members had preliminary auditions and two rounds of callbacks: one for dancing and one for singing.

Elzein spent months preparing outside of school.

“I practiced a lot with my voice teacher and on my own, and I also practiced… with some friends to get some feedback,” Elzein said. “I also went to the hip-hop dance sessions with our choreographer… to prepare for the dance auditions.”

Their work is far from over. The cast rehearses every weekday from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., and each cast member fulfilled eight hours of set construction work (building, painting and assembling the set) over winter break.

Senior student assistant director Gabby Sweet is eager to see the result of the cast and crew’s efforts.

“This is a really fun show, and it’s a lot different from any other show that we’ve ever done,” Sweet said. “It’s a lot more modern. I think it’ll be really cool to see…people’s reactions. I think they’ll be really surprised with how different it is.”

Image caption: The cast of In The Heights rehearses on Jan. 13. The musical runs from Feb. 20-23 and will be the first high school performance in Ohio. The modern Broadway classic is set over the course of three days and follows a group of characters as they navigate their lives and relationships in the neighborhood of Washington Heights.

Image by Kota Ashton