New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Connecticut Theater

"In the Heights"
Palace Theater, Waterbury

The Palace Theater comes as a big surprise, at least to this reviewer. Not that it should be a surprise. Certainly the word has been out there. We’ve heard about the wonderful restoration of this historic building.

But the first view of the theater front is not impressive. We had expected an imposing, free-standing building. But no. Flanked by a pizza parlor and hairdo salon, it is jammed in among buildings, right in downtown Waterbury. Across the street is a parking lot and the Waterbury branch of the University of Connecticut. Only its marquee suggests something promising within.

But, once inside, and through the lobby and into the performance area, we are stunned by the interior. It is overwhelming, a vast vision of gold and deep red, of intricately-carved gold leaf on all surfaces, of chandeliers, of soft red carpeting, of lush, soft seating. Golden organ pipes flank the stage, and a great gilded dome presides overhead, reflecting sound from the stage to the audience. Built in 1920 and designed by architect Thomas Lamb, its Renaissance Revival style has been described as an eclectic mix of Greek, Roman, Arabic and Federal motifs.

Originally a vaudeville/movie house, the Palace served many purposes until it closed in 1987. But, with thirty million dollars from the State of Connecticut, the Palace has indeed been lovingly restored. A venue of 5000 square feet, capable of seating 2565 patrons, it is now the largest performance stage house in the State.

On this particular occasion, a touring version of the Broadway hit “In the Heights” is about to begin. Usually, the stage set for “In the Heights” dominates any theater, but not this time around. The Palace itself is the name of the game, though the show is cozily ensconced on stage. In fact, it fits right in---with the George Washington Bridge outlined stage rear, and, on either side, the brownstones of upper Manhattan fill the stage. The Latino/Dominican community of Washington Heights comes to life.

This touring company, with its top-notch performers, does full justice to the award-winning show. Particularly notable is Perry Young in the lead, but with fine support all around. Only in Waterbury for three days, alas, “In the Heights” is a worthy visitor to the Palace.

The show itself, as with its past Broadway and off-Broadway productions, is a sweetly sentimental musical that praises its own. Despite its poverty, racism and survival struggles, this community is like a family—with family fortunes and misfortunes. An old lady wins the lottery, several love stories are resolved, businesses close down and reopen, and the Fourth of July bursts with fireworks.

The best of “In the Heights” is its spirited dance routines (original choreography courtesy of Andy Blankenbuehler). The beat never relents. But equally intriguing is the show’s tribute to Washington Heights, thanks to composer/lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda. Miranda conceived the show while still an undergraduate at Wesleyan University and would later become its star. Miranda’s tale is one of those rare, delicious Broadway success stories.

But above all, “In the Heights” shows the quality of work offered at the Palace--a venue that should be on every Connecticut theatergoer’s itinerary.

-- Irene Backalenick
November 7, 2011

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