For this weekend only the Tony award winning musical In The Heights is showing in the studio at Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Performed by BITA, Birmingham institute of theatre arts and it is fabulous.
One of the aspects of blogging that I do love is seeing shows I ordinarily wouldn’t have considered and last night was one of those nights. BITA are a youth group and I can highly recommend their show. This performance is so far removed from a youth am-dram and I left with a huge smile on my face after watching the next generation of stage stars in the making.
First let me outline the story: Usnavi owns and runs a bodega where he sells coffee and papers to the locals. His small shop is located right besides Kevin’s taxi cab office , Daniela has the beauty salon and Abuela is the old lady who knows all the neighbours. Nina returns to the neighbourhood from her first year at university to be welcomed by all her friends in the street. Nina has struggled with her first year at university and Usnavi and Abuela dream of shutting up shop and starting again in the Dominican Republic. What does the future hold for the residents of Washington Heights?
Photo by James Ogden.
With a plethora of toe tapping tunes and some fantastic choreography this is such an upbeat and feel good show even though the story is at times quite sad the show really carries the story with pure joy. My absolute favourite song of the show was Carnival del Barrio which was predominantly performed by salon owner Daniela played by Mollie-May Hallahan. Mollie-May has an amazing stage presence and definitely has star quality. I loved her confidence, I just couldn’t imagine being as supremely confident as Mollie-May at just 17 years old.
Another stand out song is Everything I know. Which is sang by Nina played by Erin Chalk and even though this song is reminiscing days gone by after the death of Abeula. Erin has so much depth and purity in her voice it really was very moving. (Erin has previously worked with Russell Watson, so is no stranger to singing, and it really shows)
In the Heights is a mix of joy and tragedy, with echos of Westside story in the form of Ninas romance with Benny (Dec Foster) , Ninas father will not entertain the thought of Benny being part of Ninas life as Benny is not Latino. But there are a few laugh out loud moments too. The majority of laughs come from Graffiti Pete (Max Eade) who is an incredibly talented dancer and has has great timing, Piragua (James Luckins) who sings the very catchy song Piragua whilst selling his ices and Sonny (Billy Vale), the instantly lovable rouge that works alongside Usnavi.
In The Heights is only showing for three performances, the final two shows being 2.30pm and 7.30pm on 15th July and I do recommend you try to catch a show if you can. This is not like any other youth performance I have ever seen before. As I was leaving I overheard two ladies who obviously knew each other but had not been sitting together and I heard
It was FAB
And really, “it was fab” truely does sum this performance of In The Heights up. This is a fun filled show full of great tunes and it is such a refreshing change to see young artists performing something other than Grease. The show was every bit as professional as anything else I have seen, yes you will have to suspend reality for Kevin (Matt Perry) being dad to Nina as he is only 18 himself, but he carries himself with a self assurance way beyond his years. The cast are playing latinos and obviously can not change their ethnicity but I just let that wash over me. I really loved Abuela the kind hearted old lady played by an incredibly talented 23 year old, Amy Evans was so very convincing in her role.
Jack Christou plays Usnavi who really is the linchpin of Washington Heights, again, so much talent and so much confidence for someone so young. At 17 James is not only a supremely talented actor but he is also a great rapper as most of Usnavis songs are sung in a rap style.
In The Heights has such a broad appeal, it suits the classic ‘musical theatre lover’ as the songs and the story are both tip-top. It appeals to younger family members as it deals with ‘youth issues’ such as young love and the struggles of university. This may well be the ideal show to introduce your younger family members to the delights of musical theatre.
I was lucky enough to be seated next to the associate director last night, until someone took the seat in between us. Cleve September has been working with BITA on this performance and he has done a great job, this show really is something special but Cleve has previously played the part of Sonny himself so he really did bring a little West end magic to last nights show. Lindon Barr as choreographer has done an amazing job and the lighting by Andrew Exeter was perfect. A few issues with sound really didn’t spoil the night and hopefully they will be ironed out by today’s show.
I do recommend you try to catch In The Heights at the studio in Birmingham Rep. I must say I was particularly impressed by the songs and dialogue which are in parts in spainish. I’d love to know if the cast knew or indeed spoke any Spanish before this as it was vey convincing. Bien hecho to all the actors that spoke and sang in Spanish.
Sadly, even though I had been invited to join the after party I did have to leave. My husband had been working in London and only managed to arrive back in Birmingham in time to meet me at the end. I didn’t feel it was right to go to the after party with him when he had not seen any of last nights show so I left immediately after the show finished. I should have loved to have expressed my delight at such an awesome show to some of the performers .
I must thank BITA and #Brumhour for giving me this opportunity to a see In The Heights. I shall be listening to the soundtrack of this show on Spotify.
Can I also take a moment to wish all the cast of In The Heights well with their future careers, I’m am certain that I saw a few West End stars in the making, and who knows maybe a Broadway star of the future.
Tickets are still available at http://www.birmingham-box.co.uk/event/in-the-heights/