In The Heights is a musical by Quiara Alegria Hudes with music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It began its life on a stage at Wesleyan University, Connecticut in 1999. An updated version of the show was staged at the National Music Theatre Conference in Waterford, Connecticut in 2005 before it opened on Off-Broadway and then Broadway. In The Heights premiered in the UK at the Southwark Playhouse in May 2014 and then transferred to the King’s Cross Theatre.
The show is set in Washington Heights, a suburb of New York City, and tells the story of the neighbourhood through the eyes of struggling business owners: Usnavi, who runs a convenience store; Daniela, a local salon owner, and her employee, Vanessa; and Kevin and Camila Rosario, who run a taxi business.
The Rosarios’ daughter, Nina, a Stanford University freshman, returns home to Washington Heights with bad news for her parents, who are devastated when she tells them that she has lost her scholarship and dropped out. Later on in the show, Kevin, wanting a better life for his daughter, announces that he has sold the family business to pay for Nina’s tuition, upsetting both his wife and his employee Benny.
Usnavi discovers he has sold a $96,000 winning lottery ticket and the whole neighbourhood dreams of what they would spend that fortune on. Abuela Claudia, who raised Usnavi, reveals to the audience that she has the winning ticket. When she tells Usnavi, they make plans to return to his homelands, the Dominican Republic. Shortly after, news comes that Abuela Claudia has passed away and the neighbourhood mourns the woman who was like a mother to all of them. Usnavi decides that Washington Heights is his home and Nina decides she is going to go back to Stanford.
Sam Mackay (Wonder.land, Flashdance, Mamma Mia) played Usnavi and gave a fantastic performance of the opening number, ‘In The Heights’. He runs the local convenience store in partnership with his cousin, Sonny, who is played by Cleve September (The Last Days of Troy). Usnavi was raised by Abuela Claudia, played by Eve Polycarpou (Mother Courage and her Children, The Bacchae, Palace of the End) who has a very powerful voice.
Nina was played by Lily Frazer (Cats, Jesus Christ Superstar, Les Misérables) who was excellent in the role. Her performance of ‘Breathe’ was very touching and she demonstrated great vocal ability throughout the show. Kevin and Camila Rosario are played by David Bedella (Rocky Horror Show, Sweeney Todd, Chicago) and Josie Benson (Sweeney Todd, The Phantom of the Opera, Why Don’t You Just Sing Jazz?). Bedella’s performance ‘Inútil’ was a vulnerable and tender moment in the show, and Benson gave a standout vocal performance of ‘Enough’.
Joe Aaron Reid (Ghost, Catch Me If You Can, Chicago) played Benny, who has had a past relationship with Nina which is renewed during the show. Reid gave a wonderful performance, particularly during ‘Benny’s Dispatch’.
Philippa Stefani (Evita, I Can’t Sing, Grease) played Daniela and she gave a standout performance with ‘Carnival Del Barrio’.
Jade Ewen (former Sugababe, Porgy and Bess, Tonight’s the Night) played Vanessa and gave a incredible vocal and dance performance.
Overall, the dancing is phenomenal and the music has a wonderful groove to it. In The Heights is high energy, fresh and rhythmic – a carnival on stage, as embodied in the fantastic musical number ‘Carnival Del Barrio’.