“Graffiti Pete” sidles, swaggers and sneaks across the rehearsal stage, stealthily pulling out a spray can.
“Yo!” Usnavi hollers. “That’s my wall!”
Caught in the act, the graffiti artist abandons his plan to tag a bodega, and joins in the opening number, singing and dancing with the rest of the cast.
If you want to know what happens next, you can watch as Wyoming Seminary’s Performing Arts Institute caps off its six-week summer program with a production of the Tony Award-winning musical “In the Heights” on Aug. 7 and Aug. 8 at the F.M. Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre.
Set in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, the plot includes the pivotal revelation that a $96,000 lottery ticket has been sold in Usnavi’s store.
Who holds that winning ticket? How will that person handle such a windfall?
Even as the characters ponder the possibility of sudden riches, the PAI students have been going through a wealth of preparation.
Adam Ercolani, 17, of Bear Creek, for example, learned to move a different way to portray “Graffiti Pete.”
“Usually, when I walk I hold myself up straighter,” he said. “This is more relaxed, more fluid.”
Stefanie Mayer, 15, of Taipai, Taiwan, explained she’s had to allow herself to be vulnerable in dance scenes in which partner James Mitchell, 16, of Wilkes-Barre “rips her out of the air” — at least, that’s how choreographer Rex Henriques told two male dancers to grab hold of two leaping female dancers during a recent rehearsal.
“At my school we have a spirit week and I’m usually the one lifting other people,” Mayer said later. “You have to really trust when you’re the one being lifted.”
As for Mitchell — though he took gymnastics when he younger — all this dancing is new to him. So is hoisting Mayer over his shoulder.
“I usually don’t go around lifting people,” he said with a smile.
Rounding out the cast are Nina Rosario, first person in the neighborhood to go to college; her boyfriend, Benny, who works for her father as a taxi driver but does not match his employer’s idea of an ideal son-in-law; Daniela, the owner of a beauty salon, and Abuela Claudia, a grandmotherly matriarch who cautions Nina, “You don’t want to forget the flavors of home.”
Does that sum up the message of the musical?
“Yes!” the cast shouted during a recent rehearsal break.
“This is about family,” director Christopher Todd said. “About community. This community is like a family and when you are feeling down, the love of community will pull you back up.”