UTEP Dinner Theatre Celebrates Summer with ‘In the Heights’

By Lisa Y. Garibay

UTEP News Service

After an eight-year process that began with a first-generation college student realizing he could tell his story as a modern-day musical and culminated with 13 Tony Award nominations and a nomination for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, In The Heights finally hits the stage at the UTEP Dinner Theatre.

Dinner Theatre Director Greg Taylor chose to bring this energetic, vibrant new show back home after seeing the original cast on Broadway.'In the Heights' tells the story of a Hispanic community in New York. It begins July 5 at the UTEP Dinner Theatre. Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News Service'In the Heights' tells the story of a Hispanic community in New York. It begins July 5 at the UTEP Dinner Theatre. Photo by Josh Garcia / UTEP News Service

“I knew we would do it as soon as it was available because it was great, won the Tony Award for Best Musical, and was one of very few ‘true’ Hispanic musicals, which we felt would speak to the UTEP and El Paso community,” Taylor said.

In the Heights tells the universal story of a vibrant Dominican-American community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood – a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you and which ones you leave behind.

Show creator Lin-Manuel Miranda infused much of the story with elements from his own upbringing and coming of age as a Puerto Rican-American who left home in New York to study at Wesleyan University.

“I wondered, as a person of Puerto Rican descent, with my experiences in life, why I didn’t see my story being told in theater and film,” Miranda said during an interview with LA Stage Times. “In the Heights is that story as well as the story of millions of other people. It’s about home, a place where you can belong. It’s the next story in the ongoing saga that began with West Side Story – the realization of the American Dream.”

After starting off in Connecticut in 2005, then moving to Off-Broadway in 2007, the show opened in a Broadway theatre in 2008, immediately garnering excitement and sell-out crowds. The New York Times stated, “With ‘Spring Awakening’ and ‘Passing Strange,’ Heights served as a watershed for musicals incorporating contemporary pop-music forms like rock and rap,” formulating a bridge to musical theatre for younger and more diverse audiences. During its acclaimed Off-Broadway run, In the Heights quickly became an audience phenomenon and a critical success. With an amazing cast, a gripping story, and incredible dancing, In the Heights scored 2008 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography, and Best Orchestrations.

UTEP’s staging stars Frank Montes de Oca III as Usnavi De La Vega, Josey Mitchell as Vanessa, Salvador Perez as Graffiti Pete, Carol Viescas as Abuela Claudia, Shelby Acosta as Nina Rosario, Estella Levy as Daniela, Lisa Lopez as Camila Rosario, Sylvia Prieto as Carla, Jaime Carrasco as Kevin Rosario, Miguel Guzman as Piraguero, Troy Taylor as Benny, Raul Valdez as Sonny, and an ensemble including Jose Durango, Sarah Escobedo, Cynthia Garcia, Antonio Gomez, Nabil Gonzalez, John Guevara, Julian Maldonado, Rudy Melendez II, Amanda Mena, Lizbeth Mendez-Sanchez, Gaby Moreno, Jessica Rodriguez, Salvador Saenz, Mariana Sandoval, Taelon Stonecipher, and Christian Zehr.

“I truly love this show, so it has been a joy to watch it come together from its beginnings to finding a cast and learning the score to seeing the set designs get built and detailed,” said Patricia Provencio, who has served as the Dinner Theatre’s musical director since 1989 but is making her directorial debut with this show. The show was blessed from the start with a connection to one of the production’s original workshop members, who worked with the UTEP team on choreography and staging. That was a huge help, given the complexity of the show’s musical numbers.

“The show sounds easy, familiar, and accessible, but the music is not simple in any way,” Provencio said. “Our goal is to make it all look easy.” 

With so many accolades in its short life, In the Heights is a special treat for El Paso that is sure to sell out soon. Tickets are available by calling the UTEP Ticket Center at 915-747-5234 or Ticketmaster at 800-745-3000. You can also visit the Ticket Center or any Ticketmaster outlet in El Paso.

The curtain lifts for main performances at 7 p.m. on July 5, 6, 10*, 11*, 12, 13, 17*, 18*, 19, and 20. Friday and Saturday evening dinner performances are $45 for adults; $43 for UTEP faculty, staff, children 4-12 years old, non-UTEP students, military, and groups of 20 or more; and $33 for UTEP students. Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday (July 7 at 1:30 p.m.) dinner and matinee performances are $40 for adults; $38 for UTEP faculty, staff, children 4-12 years old, non-UTEP students, military, and groups of 20 or more; and $30 for UTEP students.

Sunday matinee performances without dinner (July 14 and 21 at 2:30 p.m.) are $26 for adults; $24 for UTEP faculty, staff, children 4-12 years old, non-UTEP students, military, and groups of 20 or more; and $16 for UTEP students. Children age 3 and under are not allowed in the theatre.

Parking is available in the Union and Liberal Arts Building lots off of University Ave or the lot adjacent to the Education Building. Patrons can enter Union East or the breezeway to access Union Building West, then take the stairs or elevator to the second floor to the entrance of the Union Ballroom. Click here to download a map with directions and parking information, including ADA parking and access. The Dinner Theatre’s front door entrance will be accessible on performance days only. Call the Dinner Theatre office at 915-747-6060 with any additional questions.

The musical isn’t about gangs or violence, Provencio added.

“It’s about a contemporary Hispanic community much like our own,” she said. “Add to this absolutely terrific music and you've got a winning musical.”