Enjoyable 'Heights' brings new energy, actors to CCT

Lin-Manuel Miranda musical continues July 5-7 in Eldridge


I didn’t take Spanish in high school, so, like the character of Benny in “In the Heights,” I’ve only got a passing familiarity with the language.

But Kris Doss, the director of Countryside Community Theatre’s production of “In the Heights,” taught me a new word a few weeks ago: sueñito.

It means “little dream.” And that’s a huge theme in the show, as each member of the community has their own little dream that keeps them going every day.

A sparse but enthusiastic audience got to see those dreams on display this past weekend. CCT’s “In the Heights” was an important moment for the Quad Cities arts community, as it represented possibly the most diverse cast put forth in a community theatre production. As CCT president, and “Heights” cast member (Abuela Claudia) Cindy Ramos told me, it’s important for a diverse population, such as that in the greater Quad Cities area, to see itself represented on stage.

“Heights” tells the story of bodega owner Usnavi, who dreams of bigger things than owning his small shop in Washington Heights, New York City. For one, he longs to reconnect with his heritage by going to his parents’ homeland in the Dominican Republic. His friends have dreams, too. Benny, who works for a car service, wants to own his own business. Nina, returning from Stanford University, wishes to make her parents and community proud but finds that to be difficult as she struggles at school. Sonny dreams of social equity. Vanessa just wants to get out of “Gilligan’s Ghetto Island” and move uptown. But when Usnavi unexpectedly comes into a large sum of money, he finds himself at a crossroads.

The cast is tremendous. Some are making their CCT debuts, and as Doss told me, some are onstage for the first time ever in this show.

Jacob Johnson as Usnavi does a lot of heavy lifting as the protagonist and has great chemistry with every character he encounters. He’s got a nice voice and handles the rap lyrics seemingly with ease. Also handling lyrics nicely is Davenport Central student Keith Wright as Benny. In addition to rapping at the dispatch, he also has two terrific duets with Abi Jensen’s Nina (“When You’re Home” and “When the Sun Goes Down”). Jensen handles one of “Heights” most famous songs, “Breathe,” with aplomb. Recent Central grad Mia Roldan channels Vanessa’s frustrations powerfully in “It Won’t Be Long Now,” and her younger brother, Micah Roldan, is just generally a delight as Usnavi’s younger cousin, Sonny.

Also delightful is Violeta Jensen as salon owner and neighborhood gossip queen Daniela. She fires up the neighborhood in “Carnival del Barrio” and leads Vanessa and her assistant Carla, played by a bubbly Lily Scodeller, in the very fun “No Me Dega.”

Scott Rasso and Harmoni Eiland make a nice team as Nina’s overprotective parents, Kevin and Camila. Each has their own time to shine on a solo, with Kevin’s “Inútil (Useless)” and Camila’s “Enough.”

The choreography by Emma Logas is fun and works well with the music. There are really talented dancers in the cast, with standouts including dance captain Scodeller, Wright, the Roldans, ensemble member Maddox Smith, and Rebekah Riewerts, who also plays neighborhood pest Graffiti Pete.

Costumes, designed by Becky Esbaum and Sue Boedeker, are bright, fun, and true to the characters. In particular, the club scene spotlights some great costumes. The set, designed by Kevin Hurley, is effective, offering some good levels for the cast to work with. The set is also dressed nicely by props master Haidyn Koberg.

The small orchestra, which sits onstage just behind the set, does a nice job of performing well while not being overwhelming.

There were a few minor hiccups during the performance, with the microphones occasionally sounding slightly muted. A few of the scene changes seemed a little long, especially when there wasn’t incidental music to cover. And the lighting sometimes seemed a little dark – which was perfectly fine in the blackout scenes, but less effective in the opening number. However, these are all fixable issues.

Doss told me he thinks audiences might find they enjoy “Heights” as much, if not more, than Lin-Manuel Miranda’s more well-known “Hamilton.” And that might well be true. “Heights” has an innocence, a lightness, and an optimism that “Hamilton” sometimes lacks.

CCT had its own sueñito – putting on this show in the first place. With an incredibly talented cast and a motivated creative team, that turned into a dream come true. And it may have inspired the board once again, as CCT has already announced plans to do another show with a diverse cast in next year’s production of “Hairspray.”

I was disappointed to see such a small crowd for this show, and the cast and crew deserve recognition for what they’ve achieved. I hope that more people will come out for the second weekend, with performances Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. in the North Scott Fine Arts Auditorium. Tickets are $18 and are available at

Erin Gentz is editor of The North Scott Press. Contact her at

In the Heights, Countryside Community Theatre, Kris Doss, Cindy Ramos, Jacob Johnson, Keith Wright, Abi Jensen, Mia Roldan, Micah Roldan, Violeta Jensen, Lily Scodeller, Scott Rasso, Harmoni Eiland, Emma Logas, Maddox Smith, Rebekah Riewerts, Becky Esbaum, Sue Boedeker, Kevin Hurley, Haidyn Koberg, Lin-Manuel Miranda, North Scott Fine Arts Auditorium