First and foremost, I’d just like to point out that I never had any intention of going to see this cast change. When it was announced that the 2015/2016 cast would be leaving on the 4th of September I already had a show booked on the 1st of September and, in an uncharacteristically sensible move, I decided I couldn’t justify two trips to London in four days. Unfortunately the post-show blues (and the post-show Jack Daniels and coke) hit me pretty hard that night and when my friend Sarah just happened to mention that she had a spare cast change ticket, I ended up accidentally buying it. Oops.
Like most of my last-minute plans, it was a bit of a mess. I was supposed to be meeting my friends at 6pm for some food before the show, but my train decided to stop in a tunnel for fifteen minutes and I was now running late. I pulled my phone out to call ahead and apologise and a message from my friend Olivia popped up on my screen: “be warned – Lin-Manuel Miranda is IN LONDON!” If I wasn’t so breathless from speed-walking down Euston Road I would have screamed. Lin-Manuel Miranda is the creator of In the Heights and Hamilton, and is also one of my biggest literary heroes. Not three weeks ago I had lyrics from In the Heights AND Hamilton tattooed on my ankles, and now here he is, in London… surely not for the same reason I’M in London?!
Any doubts that we had over the reason behind Lin’s sudden appearance were eradicated as soon as we got to the theatre. There were cameras everywhere, several girls looked like they were going to faint/burst into tears and there was a “VIP” section cordoned off inside the theatre bar. I was in a bit of a daze – three days ago I wasn’t even going to the show, and now there’s a possibility Lin-Manuel Miranda could turn up? This kind of thing just doesn’t happen to me!
The bar itself was absolutely buzzing with excitement, and I found myself hovering near the entrance just to catch a bit of a breeze – it was boiling in there! People were still walking in to the theatre and I spotted Joe Aaron Reid, who previously played Benny, at one of the tables. I turned to point this out to my friend Karen when I noticed a shy-looking man with gorgeous brown eyes walking past. I smiled at him and he smiled back before heading over to the VIP area. “Ha,” I thought to myself, “he looked just like Lin!”
Once I’d regained my composure slightly we headed in to the auditorium. By pure luck my seat was directly behind my friends, so I leaned forward to have a chat with them. The theatre was absolutely packed except for three empty seats directly behind me. Surely not? Yep! In walks Lin and his lovely wife Vanessa and down they sit, directly behind me. This must be what having a stroke feels like.
You may have picked up on the fact that I’m quite a big fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda, so the biggest compliment I can give to the cast of In the Heights is that, as soon as the show started, I completely forgot who was sat behind me. Every single member of that cast put their heart and soul into their performance and it was the best Heights show of the fifteen I’ve seen so far.
I will forever be in awe of Sam Mackay as Usnavi. He doesn’t just act that part he really feels it; when Usnavi’s heart breaks your heart will break right along with him. He plays Usnavi with such an open and pure heart and it’s impossible not to fall in love with the character he has created. His relationship with Eve Polycarpou, who made a brief return as Abuela Claudia, is so beautiful and genuine and it was so good to have her back!
I am very sad to see Philippa Stefani go – her portrayal of Daniela is just brilliant. She is such a gifted comedy actress, to the point where people laugh in anticipation of what she will say or do next before she’s even uttered a word – she can have an entire theatre in stitches with one flick of her hair! She added so many nuances to Daniela and gave her such a fiery, feisty personality that she’ll be a hard act to follow.
All of the leading ladies were on top form – Emma Kingston belted out a riff in 96,000 that gave me actual goosebumps, and Gabriela Garcia will always be my Nina. She is a brilliant actress with one hell of a voice, and gives Nina a cheeky, flirty edge that I really love.
I was just about holding it together until Josie Benson stepped up to sing “Enough.” Josie has been with the production since it opened at the Southwark Playhouse in 2014, and she is an absolute powerhouse. Every single time she performs this song she leaves me absolutely stunned, but this last one was her best. Before she even sang her first note there were tears streaming down her face but she never faltered and belted that song out with everything she had. By the end of it I was crying too and I didn’t hesitate to jump up on to my feet for a standing ovation when she finished, as did half of the theatre!
It was during little wobbles like this that I was so thankful that Vas Constanti was on the stage as Piragua Guy – he never fails to put a smile on my face! Not only does he have one hell of a voice with a great rock edge to it (my favourite kind) he is also hysterically funny. He’s constantly adding new elements to his role that catch me off guard and make me laugh out loud, which was a welcome distraction from a very emotional night.
As the show drew to a close the reality of the situation seemed to hit the cast – it broke my heart to see Cleve September performing his final dance solo with tears in his eyes, and don’t even get me started on his line “it’s the end of an era.” That was way too close to home! I’m going to miss him playing Sonny and the relationship he has with Sam Mackay on stage – #bromance! Definitely watch out for Cleve in the future, he’s a star in the making.
After a very emotional finale (my mascara was effectively ruined by this point) the lovely producer of the show Paul Taylor-Mills gave a moving speech and then passed the mic over to Lin-Manuel Miranda. Lin talked about how part of his soul would always be with the show and how, having always been a bit of an outsider, this show had allowed him to feel included within the theatre community and this really resonated with me, as some of the closest friends I have were made through the theatre. Click here to watch the full video (all credits to WhatsOnStage) and one day I’ll be able to watch it without crying!
It was a crazy, crazy night and one that I will never forget. I want to say thank you to the entire cast and crew of In the Heights for staging such an incredible night, and a special thank you to Lin-Manuel Miranda for your incredible words and your passion and for having the determination and talent to create a show that will stay with me for the rest of my life. No pare sigue sigue!