In the Heights, in the making


Lead actors, Alex Kelly and JJ Gerber, along with the rest of the cast, are working hard in preparation for next week’s opening night of the musical In the Heights.

The cast is at rehearsals six days a week, sometimes for 12 hours at a time.

“Yesterday we rehearsed from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. This week is probably going to be a lot of that,” said Kelly, 21, a fourth-year Musical Theatre student. “But we usually rehearse 2:30 to 10 p.m.”

They’ve been pulling the musical together since after Christmas break.

“We were in rehearsals for Hello Dolly! at the time when we found out our roles for In the Heights,” said Gerber, 26, a fourth-year Musical Theatre student.

“We were so excited for the show that we actually got our libretto and scores pretty early, so we could work on it when we were still finishing up Hello Dolly!”

In the Heights takes place in modern-day Washington Heights, which is a lower-class Latino community in Manhattan.

From left, JJ Gerber who plays Benny and Alex Kelly who plays Us Navi, in the musical.

Photo courtesy of Brayden Swire Photography. From left, JJ Gerber who plays Benny and Alex Kelly who plays Usnavi, in the musical.

Kelly plays Usnavi De Le Vega, a young guy who owns a coffee shop, De Le Vega Bodega.

Usnavi is not very well off and his only dream is to return home to the Dominic Republic.

Kelly’s character narrates throughout the show. “I’m the only person that talks to the audience and breaks through the fourth wall. I speak to the audience and bring them into the world through rap,” said Kelly.

Gerber plays Benny, Usnavi’s best friend, who works as a taxi driver but dreams of one day owning his own service.

“It’s about people who are trying to go after the American dream and are realizing, in my opinion, that a large part of the American dream is actually enjoying the community that you already have,” said Gerber.

Kelly and Gerber both enjoy the play because it isn’t anything like what the Theatre program has done before. The rap and hip-hop provides a much faster paced show than what they’ve done in the past.

“It goes from huge dance moment to a intimate scene within one number,” said Gerber.

“It’s a very captivating show,” said Kelly. “This show has changed what musical theatre can be. Before this there was never hip-hop in musical theatre at all.”

“There’s also never been any rapping in any show. So it is a first for that,” said Gerber.

Gerber says one of the things he enjoys most about rehearsals is dancing with the cast beforehand.

“Before our rehearsals we usually just put on some music and party and dance, get ourselves prepped and then get up and basically do the same thing on stage,” said Gerber. “Basically all the dance numbers in the show is just us partying and having a good time.”

In the Heights will be playing Feb. 17 to March 1, tickets are available online or at the box office.