This was a very… very… VERY long day. For some reason I thought it would be a good idea to book an “In the Heights” matinee and then travel to London and back in a day to see it. There was a slight problem: I had never been to the venue before, I had no idea where it was and I only had an hour in-between my train arriving in Euston and the show starting. I don’t make things very easy for myself. On the plus side I would be meeting my good friend Olivia in person for the first time – if I ever made it to the show! Olivia runs theatre blog “Thoughts of a Blue-Eyed Girl” so make sure you watch out for her review of In the Heights too!
So, why was I putting myself through all of this? Nathan Amzi of course. I had no clue what the show was about apart from the fact that Nathan would be playing “Piragua Guy” and that was enough for me. I made it to the Southwark Playhouse at 2:10pm which was cutting it a bit fine but luckily Olivia had managed to get us two seats facing the set, as per Nathan’s instructions. The venue was different to any I’d visited before – three sides of the room were taken up by tiered seating and there was no stage as such – the entire show was performed on the floor or on the scaffolding against the back wall that housed the musicians.
The first person on stage was Sam Mackay, who plays Usnavi, performing “In the Heights.” He was sensational – how he managed to learn all of his lines I have no idea! Line after line of rap so fast and precise I had to really concentrate to keep up, all delivered in a perfect New York accent – kudos to Hugo O’Shea the voice and dialect coach. One by one the cast members appeared, leading up to an incredible performance of the song “Breathe” by Nina, played by Christina Modestou. Nina has come home to the heights to tell her parents that she has lost her scholarship at Stanford University, California, because her grades were too low. Her parents Kevin (David Bedella) and Camila (Josie Benson) own a struggling taxi business and have gone to try and acquire an emergency loan, leaving Benny (Wayne Robinson) temporarily in charge.
Wayne Robinson was my first Brit in We Will Rock You in December 2012, but he played this part so differently it was hard to believe this was the same person. He was quite shy and so funny and his song “Benny’s Dispatch” was note perfect. Benny has a crush on Nina but her father disapproves because Benny doesn’t speak Spanish. Nina tells her parents that she has lost her scholarship which leads Kevin to sing how he is “Inútil” (useless). David Bedella has such a soft, sweet voice and played his part perfectly – my heart went out to him.
The whole of the first act was absolutely spot on so it’s impossible for me to pick a favourite part. Emma Kingston who plays Vanessa, Usnavi’s potential love interest, had absolutely stunning vocals and blew me away with her song “It Won’t Be Long Now.” Victoria Hamilton-Barritt was brilliant as salon owner Daniela. I had the pleasure of meeting Victoria at one of Scott Alan’s concerts but I didn’t recognise her in the show – she really is a very talented actress. I may be slightly biased but Nathan Amzi absolutely shone as Piragua Guy. He looked to be having so much fun and had a huge grin on his face throughout the show. His song “Piragua” was brilliant – here’s a link to the original cast recording of the song and good luck getting it out of your head.
The second act started with a topless Wayne Robinson (can’t complain) performing “Sunrise” with Christina Modestou. The pair both have such strong voices and it was such a treat to watch them perform the song together. The second half was as strong as, if not stronger than the first with many powerful and uplifting songs but my personal favourite (apart from Piragua Reprise of course) was definitely “Champagne” – the moment when Vanessa and Usnavi finally got together. I loved Emma Kingston’s voice so much, it was so powerful and she performed all of her songs with such passion.
During the finale every single audience member jumped to their feet – it was like being at a party! The choreographer Drew McOnie absolutely excelled himself and the whole show was mesmerising to watch – I can totally understand why it has sold out its run. I’ve seen lots of people calling for a transfer of the show, but I’m not sure that it would work on a bigger stage. The best thing about the show was that you felt like a part of it – I was talking to Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who said it felt like a community and she was right. There was no barrier between the performers and the audience and I fear that that sense of community and comradeship may be lost in a bigger venue.
I was very apprehensive about going to this show but I’m so glad I did – I discovered a brilliant venue, a cracking cast and a truly memorable show. I can’t wait to see what they all go on to do next and I will definitely be looking out for names like Christina Modestou, Emma Kingston, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Sam Mackay in the future.