Actors dance and sing their way through ‘The Heights’

Actors dance and sing their way through ‘The Heights’

Actors dance and sing their way through ‘The Heights’
Cast members perform one of the many captivating dance numbers in Center Repertory’s production of “In the Heights,” through June 24 in Walnut Creek. (Photo by Ben Krantz)

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (June 15, 2023) — Lots of stimulating dance moves and vibrant rhythms transform the Lesher theater into New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood as Center Rep presents “In the Heights.”

Nicholas C. Avila directs an energetic, pulsating production with a wealth of talent led by Michel Alejandro Castillo as Usnavi, owner of the local bodega. A sort of hip hop narrator, Castillo creates a memorable character with his voice, moves and comedic timing. Laura LeBron, as his love interest Vanessa, commands attention as she flawlessly performs one dance routine after another.

Then there is the incredible voice of Cristina Hernandez as Nina, the pride of the neighborhood who made it into Stanford University. Hernandez can belt out a tune with ease and then pull the softest, most heart wrenching notes out of ballad. She is well-matched by the considerable acting chops and vocal ability of Dave J. Abrams, as her love interest Benny.

Natalie Amaya and Noel Anthony bring their many talents to the role of Nina’s parents, with Alex Alvarez providing a nice comedic touch as the Piragua Guy.


Kudos to Avila for adding to the diversity of the characters by partnering Ashley Cowl, who plays the owner of the beauty salon, and Deanalis Arocho Resto, one of her hairdressers, as a couple. With June being Gay Pride Month, this addition is especially timely as the ensemble pulls out flags for one dance number with Resto displaying a rainbow flag.

Choreographer Sara Templeton creates the energetic dance moves as Nicolas Perez molds the strong vocals as music director. While the nine-piece ensemble made the theater pulsate with the sensuous rhythms, unfortunately, they overpowered the singers at times.

“In The Heights” runs through June 24 at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr. Call 925-943-7469 or go to for tickets.

Crumbs from the Table of Joy

Keith White as Godrey and Amara Kali as Lily in Town Hall’s “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.” (Photo by Jay Yamada)

Another winner is Town Hall’s moving production of Lynn Nottage’s coming-of-age story “Crumbs from the Table of Joy.”

Set in the 1950s, this early work by the Pulitzer Prize winning author follows 17-year-old Ernestine as her African-American family relocates from Pensacola to Brooklyn. As Ernestine and her 15-year-old sister Ermina adjust to life without their mother, who recently died, their father Godfrey does his best to provide for the girls while finding new meaning in religion.

Adding humor to the mix is his hard-partying, Communist-leaning sister-in-law who introduces the teens to a more sophisticated lifestyle. Godfrey’s unexpected marriage to a white woman adds further angst to the household as they deal with the racism of the time.

Director Tanika Baptiste brings out the warmth and humor of the piece with her excellent cast: Sundiata Ayinde, Asia Jackson, Amara Kali, Keith White and Emily Keyishian.

“Crumbs from the Table of Joy” runs through June 24. For tickets, call 925-283-6673 or go to
Walnut Creek celebrates Latin American arts and culture with a week-long Fiesta Cultural at the Lesher Center, 1601 Civic Dr., June 20 – 25. Individual performers, including legendary jazz musician Arturo Sandoval plus a Street Fair are on tap.

For more information, go to

Festival Opera has started selling tickets to its much-anticipated opera “Carmen.” Directed by Michael Mohammed, the updated story of the strong-willed Carmen runs 7:30 p.m. Aug. 18 and 2 p.m. Aug. 20. It plays at Walnut Creek’s Lesher Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Dr. Call 925- 943-7469 or go to

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Sally Hogarty
Sally Hogarty

Sally Hogarty is well known around the Bay Area as a newspaper columnist, theatre critic and working actress. She is the editor of the Orinda News. Send comments to