Arts & Entertainment

West Orange High School Brings “In the Heights” to Life

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Cast, crew, and musicians of "In the Heights." Credits: Cynthia Cumming
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WOHS Principal Hayden Moore at the Senior Citizen performance. Credits: Cynthia Cumming
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WEST ORANGE, NJ — Approximately 680 tickets, or about 84 percent of the seats in the West Orange High School (WOHS) auditorium, were sold for the final WOHS performance of its spring musical “In the Heights” on Saturday night, boosting the overall ticket sales to more than 1,839 over the course of four nights.

Based on the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical of the same name, “In the Heights” tells the story of a handful of Puerto-Rican-ethnic and Dominican-Republic-ethnic New Yorkers living in Washington Heights, Manhattan.

“We wanted a contemporary show that infused all different styles of music,” said assistant director and vocal director John Hellyer.

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Much like “Hamilton,” the original musical was directed by and starred Lin-Manuel Miranda, featured a hybrid of hip-hop and ethnic music, elaborate dancing, strong vocals, small moments of comedy to balance out with the dramatic moments, and very minor breaks in between songs.

“It was the right show, for this year and for this group of students,” said Hellyer. “Everyone worked incredibly hard.”

The show also starred a few returning cast members from last year’s WOHS musical, “The Little Mermaid,” including senior Sophia Torres, who transitioned from playing the villainous Ursula to Abuela Claudia this year. This year, her character raised lead character Usnavi (played by junior Ruben Alexander Centeno), who is in love with Vanessa (sophomore Indigo Jackson).

“It was an amazing transition,” said Torres. “I had to the most incredible time bringing a heart-wrenching yet compassionate character to life. It’s a very complex character that I’ve never played in a musical before. So, it was a very refreshing experience.”

Senior Madeline Machado also made her final performance at WOHS this weekend after appearing in six previous WOHS productions.

“[I’m going to miss most] the people, the music that’s always being sung even when you tell the people to shut up, and the long hours of a lot of yelling,” Machado said after the show.

Other lead characters included Nina Rosario, played junior Gabby Florendo; Carla and Kevin Rosario, played respectively by junior Madelyn Machado and sophomore Joe Nalieth; and Benny, played by sophomore Khalil Louigene.

A supporting cast of featured singers and dancers helped to weave the underscoring music, movement and vitality of the production.

The set was designed and built by EMS Art teacher Melanie Racanelli and WOHS Technology Engineering teacher Max Grossman, the sound design was directed by Kirk Roberts and lighting was directed by Lauren Grof-Tisza.

Students rehearsed for months under the direction of producer Deb Coen, director Wendy Mapes-Chrzanowski, Vocal Director John Hellyer and dance instructor Melissa Sande. Musical director Erin Lagatic, music teachers Ryan Krewer, Joe Romano, and Lew Kelly, and a team of student musicians transported the audience to Broadway.

This is article was written by Joshua Bake, a West Orange High School student participating in the TAPinto West Orange internship program.

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