Atención, atención! So it’s no secret that I am a bit of a Lin-Manuel Miranda fan, so naturally, in 2016 this show literally became my life. I was so fortunate to catch it 7 times during its 15 month-run including the incredible closing night performance! As I still haven’t recovered from that night (which was two months ago) I thought I would ramble on about some things I still miss about the show and why we still need it in the West End!
(NB I unfortunately missed the run at Southwark Playhouse, so this is in reference to the King’s Cross production.)
1. The Music
The way Lin is able to write music and lyrics is beyond anything I can comprehend. He has such a natural ability to feel a character’s emotion and express that in new and relevant ways. The score overall was consistently good, not one weak song, or one down moment in which you weren’t fully engaged, weather that was the emotionally poignant “Inutil” or the hysterical “No Me Diga”, or the anthem crowd-pleaser “96,000”, it just didn’t stop! A most effective moment was in Act II in which the ability to drastically change the mood is done so effortlessly without feeling unnatural – the high-spirited “Carnaval del Barrio” quickly eases into a character’s death so naturally in a way I can’t really explain wholly in order to justify it, but if you saw the show, I think you’ll know what I mean!
2. The Cast
I mean, what can I say about the two companies that gave it their all every week on the King’s Cross stage? I don’t think any words will be able to do them justice actually. I mean, in my opinion, one of the strongest casts I’ve ever seen on a stage. Some personal favourites of mine included Sam Mackay – Sam led the company as Usnavi for the entire run and would perform with such an unmatchable energy and charisma (still flogging this horse but he needs to be the West End’s Alexander Hamilton, if not, the world is wrong! #Sam4Ham);
Gabriela Garcia (2nd/final Nina) is an absolute superstar and made me bawl my eyes out on closing night;
Both Joe Aaron Reid (1st) and Arun Blair Mangat (3rd/final) showcased their incredible vocal ability as Benny;
Josie Benson (1st) and David Bedella were both powerful onstage as Kevin and Camilla;
Phillipa Stefani (2nd) and Aimee Atkinson (3rd/final) had me in hysterics as Daniela;
Vas Constanti as Piragua Guy had stage presence in buckets;
and Emma Kingston (3rd) slayed as Vanessa – the second time I saw her she had already left and stepped in an hour before curtain up without a refresh rehearsal or put-in (due to a lack of cast members) and smashed it! Now that’s a pro!
3. The Atmosphere
The atmosphere was always great but particular of course on two occasions, when the lyrics “maybe this neighborhood’s changing forever, maybe tonight is our last night together” particularly rang true!
Cast Change: In September 2016, many cast members left the show, but not before having an incredible send-off from the audience. Three separate mid-show standing ovations occurred: after “96,000”, “Carnaval del Barrio” and Josie Benson’s final “Enough”. The atmosphere was unlike any cast change I’ve been to, it was like a rock stadium, and the performances were out of this world! Not to mention a certain Lin-Manuel Miranda watching in the audience and then giving a speech at the end! Life made!
Closing Night: After 15 months, the show closed on January 8, 2017 due to the temporary performance space being knocked down, which was a really shame because the show really deserved much longer. But that night though!! I think I experienced every emotion humanly possible that night – even more standing ovations; emotional, energetic and dedicated performances; and another pop-up appearance from Sir Lin! Such a send-off!
4. The Ticket Price
Thank God this was no Elf the Musical situation again, the accessibility for Young people to see the show – I assume in an important effort to open their minds up to theatre – was great! If you were Under 25, tickets were a mere £15, and when compared to The Lion King’s top price of £150, I’d say that’s a good deal!
5. The Choreography and Staging
Generally unless the show is very dance heavy – think Top Hat, which I loved! – the choreography is possible the thing I focus on the least in a musical, not because it doesn’t entertain me, but I just naturally focus on the music and cast more. In this show it was hard to ignore. Drew McOnie’s choreography was inventive, stylistic and full of life – a real representation of a powerful show such as this!
The choreography complemented the staging; as the stage was in the centre of the auditorium and seats either side (so basically a mirror image, seeing the other half of the audience in front of you [see above]) it allowed everyone to be fully involved in the show which suited it perfectly (actors would dance in the aisles in certain moments too). And the ability to encapsulate the audience through the actor’s direction was seamless. You think it would be awkward that for half of a conversation you see an actor’s back, but they managed to work around that.
If you also had the opportunity to experience the show, you’ll know how perfect it was. Unless you hated it, in that case, you must be out of your mind…but ok. I feel like I went on a bit, but I’m just very passionate about this show, so, yeah. My favourite shows change around depending on what I’m obsessed with at the time, but In the Heights is firmly in the Top 5 and is defiantly not moving from there anytime soon!!