On Feb. 20, Las Vegas Academy is set to present the valley premiere of “In the Heights.” It’s not your father’s musical theater.
“I think the interesting thing about the music for the show is that it’s predominantly rapping and hip-hop, which is very different from the traditional musical theater style,” said theater instructor Megan Ahern, who is directing the show. “It’s set in present-day Washington Heights (a neighborhood in New York City). It’s very urban-looking and all the dancing is hip-hop and salsa at its base because it’s a Hispanic community. We think it will be fun for the audience, something they haven’t seen before.”
The show features students from several of the public arts magnet school’s areas of study, including choir, dance and theater.
“Some of the tech theater majors are actually acting and singing,” Ahern said. “We even have an art major in the show.”
The art major, Manuel Bautista, plays Graffiti Pete, an aerosol street artist.
“He’s a pretty good street dancer,” Ahern said. “He just showed up for the auditions, and we saw what he could do, and we said, ‘This is the kid.’ I love it when that happens.”
He’s not the only surprise performer. While watching last year’s Las Vegas Academy production of “Oklahoma!” dance student Briana Lowe decided to try out for one of the productions in this, her senior year. She had never acted in a show before and was cast as Vanessa, one of the show’s leads.
“When I found out I was going to be playing Vanessa, it was a real shock,” Lowe said. “I was just glad to be in the show. I love working with all the people in the cast and crew. It’s such a fun experience. I’m working with a whole bunch of people, and I’m getting to see how they act, and I’m learning from them. I’m taking it all in.”
Theater major JeKyi Post, who plays Usnavi, is taking a lead role for the first time, too. At first, he found it overwhelming.
“I went home and started making the show part of my lifestyle,” the junior said. “I would read the script while listening to the music.”
He played it whenever he could, and soon, the music became not just the soundtrack to the show but also the soundtrack to his home. His friends and family learned the soundtrack by heart.
“We all sing it together,” Post said. “We reference it. Even when this is over, I feel like I’ll still carry it with me until the day I die.”
Bailey Saxe has worked on several shows at the academy, and this will be the second time the senior is slated to serve as stage manager.
“The previous show I was the stage manager for had a cast of 12,” Saxe said. “There were some sound cues, some light cues, but this show is exciting because it’s a beast. It’s predominantly dancing, and we’ll have something like 400 lighting cues, and that makes me a little nervous, but it’s exciting going from a cast of 12 to 55.”
Saxe said her job involves making sure everyone is where they’re supposed to be at the right time and dealing with the conflicts and keeping things running smoothly.
“Organizing it all has been a struggle,” Saxe said. “With a cast this big, there’s always someone missing. We’re high schoolers, so we only get them as much as we can. It’s a different experience being in charge of your peers, but it’s rewarding in the end.”
Post said he’s anticipating performing the show for an audience.
“Each time I perform it, I feel all the old feelings I felt when I first read it, but in a new way,” he said. “It’s a new experience every time. It’s the same songs, but everyone knows them now, and everyone’s in the same moment together. I can feel what they feel. That’s the great thing about being in the show.”
Ahern said the cast is coming together, and she anticipates an excellent show.
“It is a party, but it’s got a definite moral twist at the end,” Ahern said. “It’s got heart, that’s for sure.”
Performances of “In the Heights” are scheduled at 7 p.m. Feb. 20-22, 27 and 28 and March 1 and 6-8 and at 2 p.m. March 1 in Las Vegas Academy’s Lowden Theatre for the Performing Arts at Ninth Street and Clark Avenue. Tickets are $18. For tickets and information, visit lvacademytheatre.org or call 702-855-9729.
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter F. Andrew Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-4532.