When the Sun Rises at The Leeward Theatre
A disclaimer before I proceed: I started my theatre jorueny here at The Leeward Theatre and have worked with director Chris Patrinos quite a few times.
For the last two and a half years, The Leeward Theatre has been undergoing a massive renovation both inside and out, relegating all theatrical programming to be held in the alternate space, AM-101. Don Ranney, Claire Ranney, and Sarah Y. Whitehead have done a wonderful job of turning that space into a stage for the students to perform on. Now, after two and a half years, the theatre proper is pau and open for business and its students.
Here in Hawaii, the 2018-2019 theatrical season so far has been a banner one for strong ensembles. Many theatres in the community have had consistent strong casts, with everyone working together as a unit to tell a story, not a dragging link in sight. What once was a rare occurrence has turned into the rule, it seems, at least for the 2018-2019 theatrical season on Oahu. In the Heights, at The Leeward Theatre, continues that upward trend in spades.
In the Heights, with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda anda book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, is a contemporary musical set against the backdrop of Washington Heights, New York. The story follows the mostly Hispanic-American citizens of Washington Heights as they cope with day to day struggles of work, family, immigration, and gentrification. Director Chris Patrinos has worked on this production before, but for The Leeward Theatre’s grand re-opening it seems he and his design team have spared no expense in mounting a visual delight for the west side of Oahu. Claire Paul’s scenic design brings Washington Heights to life, giving the storefronts represented their own personalities and having an excellent eye for detail, as she also designed the props used in the show. Christopher Gouvea’s lights play off of Paul’s set and the cast extremely well, and were one of the highlights of this production (kudos especially for the blackout design- I audibly went “Oh my god”). Speaking of audibly, Claire Ranney’s sound work was fantastic- crisp, balanced, and everyone came through loud and clear. Finally, Carlynn Wolfe’s costume coordination worked great. With twenty-seven cast members (did I count right?) in the production, each with multiple changes, the flavor and aesthetic of both the show and the roles the cast were portraying were always well served by their costumes, so kudos for that tremendous undertaking.
Speaking of tremendous undertaking, the work that Patrinos, vocal director Miguel Cadoy, and choreographer Ka’ena Kekoa is not to be missed. With a cast of twenty-seven, getting everyone to both dance and sing on the same level is quite the achievement. It’s here that I think the production really shines. The principals sound magnificent and can hold their own, but the cast behind them sound equally as strong. Everyone’s coordination is on point, and with such a large number of bodies on stage it’s easier to make the street that Usnavi’s bodega lives on feel that much more populated. However, the actors do more than just be props, they come in and actually live on that street, with each other, on stage. No one is left behind, everyone tasked with an objective, truly heightening the strength of this cast as a living, breathing unit. This traces back to the direction, both vocally, physically, and overall, and to those directors, I commend you.
Ultimately, directors can only do so much- a cast must be able to run and soar on its own. This cast takes off in a rocket and blazes like a set of fireworks on July 4th, demonstrating such quality finesse in acting, emotion, and vulnerability. With thirteen principal roles and the rest ensemble, it would be easy to go down and list where and when certain actors had magical moments. However, I won’t do that. The script allows each of the principals to have their moment and to take their shot, and none of the actors waste it at all, constantly wowing everyone until the lights cut to black. The ensemble, like I keep saying, is also exceptional. A wise man that taught at LCC once said “there are no small roles, only small actors.” The ensemble embodies this in earnest, giving lives to the people they embody, even though they may not have a named role in the program. Therefore, my last applause goes to these twenty-seven actors, who have done the story and the production a great service.
What a production to kick off the grand-reopening of The Leeward Theatre. Patrinos’ direction is invigorating, with this kind of a production being something new that The Leeward Theatre is being able to host. That’s not to say Betty Burdick or Paul Cravath couldn’t do something on this level, it’s just that this type of big musical wasn’t their cup of tea when it comes to shows they have directed. Now, there is something even more for the school’s already rich drama program to look towards with this new direction in programming. In the Heights at The Leeward Theatre is loud, full of heart, and visually dynamic from beginning to end. This weekend is their final weekend of performances, get your tickets online here.