Published 7:46 am, Wednesday, October 14, 2015
Students practice for "In the Heights," Spring Branch ISD's district-wide musical. Daniel Fonseca left, Isaac Fernandez, Adam Pena and Samantha De Leon work out things during a rehearsal.
The $46,000 project got the green light last year from retiring superintendent Duncan Klussmann. His replacement, Scott Muri, "is also on board," said Terry Hibbert-Ismert, theater director at Spring Woods High.
"Aside from big holiday-time productions like 'A Christmas Carol,' SBISD hasn't produced an all-district student musical like this before," said Hibbert-Ismert.
"In The Heights" won four Tony Awards, including best musical, and the Grammy Award for best musical show album, when it bowed on Broadway in 2008.
Set in the Washington Heights section of New York City, its lovable, Latin-American characters perform contemporary hip-hop dance moves to the Latin-flavored musical score as they ride a wave of emotions during the hottest three days of the year in their neighborhood.
"The production calls for a diverse ensemble cast, which would be difficult to perform at a single school due to casting requirements," said Hibbert-Ismert, who serves as a production manager on the show. "We have some blue-eyed, blond actors, but you won't be able to tell it. They're having fun dying their hair dark. Everyone will look like they live in Washington Heights."
When tryouts were held in May, Adam Peña of Spring Woods won the lead role of Usnavi, which was originated by the show's composer, Lin-Manuel Miranda. Usnavi owns a small bodega in the neighborhood, where he lives with the barrio's matriarch, "Abuela" Claudia, and looks after his younger cousin, Sonny. However, he dreams of returning to his homeland, the Dominican Republic.
"Usnavi wants to be a big man, but he feels limited," explains Peña. "He takes an emotional dive, then gets uplifted when he realizes his actual place in the community and all the emotions that go into that."
Rehearsals have been held at schools throughout the district, said Peña, a 17-year-old senior who is the son of Araceli Carillo of west Houston and George and Annette Peña of Spring Branch.
"Time-wise, I don't have a problem with it because they always start an hour after school, we know our schedules in advance and everyone is always offering rides and directions."
Among other cast members and their schools are: Adam Campbell, Samantha De Leon, Daniel Fonseka, Emma Golden, Hannah Goulden, Patrick Greer, Alyssa Hacker, Regan Hicks, Wesley Jones, Rachel Klein, Meredith Rauch, Thane Sponsel and Luisa Vazquez of Memorial High; Amy Rodriguez of Northbrook High; Rachel Arredondo, Annabelle Bellow, Adam Brecht, Ceci Cuellar, Darius Dentley , Isaac Fernandez, Matthew Rodgers and Gloria Sparks of Spring Woods; Lauren Dodds, Noelle Flores, Dani Greene, Anna Langlois, Julia Langlois, Isobel Makin, Lauren Menard, Ezra Myer and Nomaris Velez of Stratford High; and Jasmine Sigworth of Westchester Academy for International Studies.
Directing "In The Heights" is Monroe Moore, a 1997 graduate of Stratford High.
About 25 students from various schools comprise the crew.
Performing arts teachers from throughout SBISD and their roles in the show include: Christine Cutler, Spring Woods High, music director; Nicole Morgan and Jay Matthew, Memorial, technical directors, and Danielle Prontka, Memorial, music; Cece Prudhomme, Stratford, costumes; Andrew Maddocks, Westchester Academy, production stage manager; and Jack McEwen, Northbrook High, technology assistance.
A performance for students in the district schools will be presented at 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 16 at the Memorial Performing Art Center, 935 Echo Lane.