Total Rating: 
***1/2
Images: 
Opened: 
October 11, 2017
Ended: 
November 19, 2017
Country: 
USA
State: 
Florida
City: 
Sarasota
Company/Producers: 
West Coast Black Theater Troupe
Theater Type: 
Regional
Theater: 
West Coast Black Theater Troupe
Theater Address: 
1646 Tenth Way
Phone: 
941-366-1505
Website: 
westcoastblacktheatre.org
Running Time: 
2 hrs, 30 min
Genre: 
Musical
Author: 
Conc/Score: Lin-Manuel Miranda. Book: Qiara Alegria Hades
Director: 
James Weaver
Choreographer: 
James Weaver
Review: 

Westcoast Black Theater Troupe delves for the first time into the Afro-Carribean genre for a musical drama that hones in on a particular neighborhood in New York.  But its story is universal: group trying to keep identifying with its roots but aspiring to reach success in a new milieu and with a bigger multi-ethnic, multi-colored population.

Positioning the band behind curtains to one side makes the relatively small center stage, with cleverly mostly vertical structures represent an entire neighborhood. It awakens to the sale of coffee in the central shop of Usnavi De La Vega. Michael Mendez does a fine job representing the neighborhood’s dual racial component. He relates to everyone with his business and personally. (He sings well too!)

It is a time of transition.  Renata Eastlick conveys with spirit Daniella’s soon to be attained ambition to close her beauty salon.  Her move to a “better” area will mean job loss to her worker Vanessa (comely Marissa Buchheit), whom Usnavi loves but doesn’t think he can ask to share his life in paltry circumstances.  Abuela (Grandmother) Claudia, unfortunately weakly played by Maite Uzal, hopes to have a positive contribution to that problem.

Struggling much to keep in his auto rental and supply business is Kevin Rosario (spot-on Matthew Curtis). He learns his daughter Nina (bright Nina Negron) quit university due to money and cultural problems. Because her father wants to see her be the family’s first college graduate, he’s against her taking up with his employee Benny whom Kevin has taught. His wife Camila (played with strength by Emily Barnash), however, will have her say.

The Ensemble of neighborhood regulars all present themselves authentically.  Raleigh Mosely II stands out as Graffiti Pete, as does Michael Kinsey as a Piragua Guy.  Kinsey sings his sales pitch for his ices well enough to raise an audience’s thirst.

The production I attended started a bit late due to a technical glitch which was never noticed after it was fixed.  A treat during the wait was a solo by WBTT founder and Artistic Director Nate Jacobs--an a cappella song from a former show.   It was a delight before the  longer delight, directed with strength of experience by Jim Weaver, that followed.  

Cast: 
Michael Mendez, Nina Negron, Brian L. Boyd, Michael Kinsey, Maite Uzal, Marissa Buchhart, Matthew Curtis, Kate Salit, Emily Barnash, Raleigh Moseley II, Troy D. Wallace, Renata Eastlick; Ensemble: Donald Frisson, Derric Goebourne Jr., Chakara Rosa, Brentney Stephens, Sydney Warner, Arthur Wesley
Technical: 
Set: Mark & Donna Buckalter. Costumes: David Walker. Lighting: Michael Pasquini. Wigs: Joyce Ward. Props: Annette Breazeale.
Critic: 
Marie J. Kilker
Date Reviewed: 
October 2017