In the Heights by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Starring: a brilliantly diverse cast
Theatre: King’s Cross Theatre, London
Dates: Current; extended to January 2017
Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
My only coherent thought after I’d watched In the Heights was “If ITH was this good, then oh my god are we in for a treat with Hamilton!” Buuut let’s rewind back to the beginning…
I’d been meaning to go and see In the Heights since it transferred to the West End in October 2015 so I jumped at the chance when I saw an opportunity to get some awesome seats at a ridiculously discounted price. Also, for all the hype Hamilton has rightly been getting, I actually knew very little about In the Heights before I went to see it beyond the perfunctory “It’s a Lin-Manuel Miranda production” (which let’s be honest is enough for most of us!) I didn’t even know that it had been nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won four – including Best Musical!
A quick summary of the story: Into the Heights: At the crack of dawn on the hottest day of summer, Usnavi opens up his tiny bodega in his neighbourhood of Washington Heights – one bustling neighbourhood where everyone knows everybody, and the breeze carries the sweet sounds of three generations of music.. Usnavi dreams of a return to his native Dominican Republic. His childhood friend, Nina, has just come from her first year at Stanford with some surprising news for her parents, and, priced out of the ‘hood’, salon owner Daniela is packing up her sass and taking it to the Bronx. But when Usnavi discovers he has sold a winning lottery ticket worth $96,000, everyone on the block gets a dose of what it means to be home.
Into the Heights deals with issues such as gentrification, family, immigrant realities, and love. But although that may sound heavy, Lin-Manuel explores it in a really poignant way that focuses on the positives. I could really relate to all of the characters on some level and I think that’ll be the case for most people. LMM is so adept at telling stories that although on the face of it his productions might seem targeted at one specific audience (Hamilton – history nerds, older gen; ITH – trendy, hipster young ‘uns) actually once you’re immersed you realise they’re cross-generational, cross-racial etc. etc. and I think that’s why his productions and songs resonate so much with so many.
ITH is a multi-character and plotline story. I honestly cannot choose a favourite character because they’re all so brilliant in their own way: Usnavi, the beleaguered shop owner deep in unrequited love; Sonny, the smooth-talking cheeky chappie, Abuela Claudia, with her simple pleasures; Nina, trying to reconcile her background with her future; Benny, who’s just trying to get by in the world and get the girl; Vanessa, the girl who seems to have all the attention but is having trouble branching out on her own, the Rosario’s, scraping by to make their daughter Nina’s future easier that they’ve had it; Daniela, the sassy salon-owner and victim of gentrification. Hell even the Piragua Guy (steet food seller) had a story and his own solo!
It sounds rather chaotic but the characters all had distinct personalities, stories and even singing styles and it was easy to follow. I loved how colourful each character was, that they all got their own solos and had backstories. But most of all it was amazing to go and see a theatre show which had the most diverse cast ever – every single actor *was* their character and it just made the whole experience so much more expressive and immersive. Their stories are told very well and it was all interwoven without being messy – it really shows how our experiences are often bigger than us and how “family” and “home” can mean so many things. I adored each and every plotline and loved how it all came together at the end.
Obviously, I can’t review a LMM production without mentioning the songs – I can confirm they were brilliant, as expected. The lyrics were just phenomenal, I am seriously in awe of Mr Miranda because honestly it’s difficult enough to rhyme words but to make weave words together into a much bigger and meaningful story is just ~wow~. There was a good balance of uplifting and upbeat ensemble songs as well as the more serious ballads and the range of styles, from freestyle rapping to duets, were fantastic. The choreography was equally diverse with everything from salsa to swing. I really recommend the In the Heights soundtrack. And on that note, the Hamilton mixtape is now available to pre-order with two songs already released. 🙂
If you’re desperately waiting for Hamilton, I really recommend going to watch In the Heights to whet your appetite until November 2017. It’s a classic Lin-Manuel Miranda production with amazing songs, diverse actors all wrapped up in a great story that’s guaranteed to leave you feeling fuzzy and warm! The production has been extended three times already due to phenomenal demand but is due to end on 7 January so be quick! Or maybe you’ve seen In the Heights already or even Hamilton (colour me green with envy)? Tell me what you thought in the comments below!