The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

The Independent Student Newspaper of St. John's University

The Torch

Chappell Players Soar To New ‘Heights’

Heights ONLINE
Cheyanne Gonzalez/Torch Photo Editor


The University’s Chappell Players Theatre Group presentation of “In the Heights,” which originally premiered on Oct. 10., concluded its production on Oct. 18.

The Chappell Players took inspiration from the former-hit Broadway show and adapted it to their own unique style.

The musical first premiered on Broadway in 2008 and won four Tony Awards out of 13 nominations including Best Musical and Best Choreography. The music and lyrics were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also played Usnavi in the musical.  The musical was adapted into a book written by Quiara Alegria Hudes.

This year hundreds of students came out to audition for the 24 spots in the musical. The final cast resembled the ethnic diversity of the characters whose stories were shared with the audience members.

The premise of the story takes place in Washington Heights, a tight-knit community in upper Manhattan. The main protagonist and narrator, Usnavi, is brought to life by junior Ryan DeForeest.

The infusion of hip-hop and Spanish create an upbeat atmosphere as the characters share their stories. It’s nearly impossible to not nod your head or snap your finger to the infectious mixture of drums, piano and guitar. The graffiti-filled setting is the perfect representation of New York as a majority of the musical takes place at Usnavi’s bodega.

DeForeest describes his character as being very charismatic but also very insecure as he struggles to express his feelings to his love interest Vanessa. He’s given the chance of winning the lottery and returning to his homeland in the Dominican Republic. This possibility motivates him throughout the course of the play as he strives to live his life to the fullest.

When discussing the theme of the play, “dreams and how these somewhat real characters can actually aspire to reach those dreams,” is how DeForeest summed it up.

The characters in the musical want more in their life. Nina, played by junior Danielle Maturo, returns home from college with surprising news for her father that she’s dropped out of school. She battles with the decision of going back after her parents have struggled financially to get her out of the Heights.

Another protagonist in the play, Benny, endeavors to start up his own car service business and Vanessa wants to move to an apartment downtown.

“Everyone has dreams and this idea of wanting to get out of the Heights,” Maturo said.

The characters portrayed in Washington Heights share the burden of a setting into which they were born. Each character dreams of escaping the financial and personal hardships of their lives.

“Something about Washington Heights seems to them a trap,” director and choreographer Courtney Laine Self said. “The whole neighborhood, to a certain extent, feels stuck—falling short of achieving their dreams.”

As the musical arrives at its conclusion, the characters come to realize that the days they felt lost were what shaped them for the future.

Each character revels in the victory of achieving their dreams and appreciates that Washington Heights helped them get to where they want to be.

“But how often do we look back on an experience in our lives that seems frustrating or stressful and think to ourselves, ‘God those days were great?’” Self said.

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