In The Heights

Date 5th April 2018
Society Encore Productions
Venue The Parr Hall, Warrington
Type of Production Musical
Director Laura Cupit
Musical Director Ashley M A Walsh
Choreographer Laura Cupit

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Author: Joe Clarke

In The Heights is a musical created by the genius behind ‘Hamilton’ – Lin-Manuel Miranda.  Set in New York, over the course of three days, In The Heights tells the story of a small community in the neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York.  The story is told from the point of view of the narrator, Usnavi.

I had the pleasure of watching the opening night of In The Heights this evening with Encore Productions.  The Parr Hall in Warrington, known as a heritage site and official concert venue, was transformed into a small block of New York.  The set was visually stunning and used very well.  The director, Laura Cupit, used the space to its full advantage and created extra space within the audience by using a catwalk.  This, in turn, created extra entrances and exits for the vast cast of nearly forty.  Whilst the set on the stage was brilliant, I felt that the catwalk helped break down the fourth wall, thus, taking away the element of the narrator, Usnavi.  In my opinion, Usnavi should be the only character to break the fourth wall and speak directly to the audience.  Despite this, the catwalk was used to great effect throughout the show, particularly during ‘Blackout’, ’96,000’ and ‘Finale’. 

The lighting for this show was very good.  I appreciated the up-lighting on the cyclorama and the colours that were used throughout the show.  It was a good directorial choice to use lights from mobile phones during ‘Blackout’.  As it was opening night, there were a few issues with follow spots.  This distracted from the action as central characters were not lit correctly at the appropriate times.

The sound for this show was produced by Danny Clare.  I appreciate, that with a concert venue this big, it must be very hard to work with the acoustics, but I thought that the orchestra was appropriately loud.  For me, there were slight issues with the sound of the main cast.  I felt that with the orchestra being so loud, and with the venue being so vast, the cast’s microphones needed to be turned up so that the audience could fully appreciate the amazing vocals from the cast.

Costumes and props for this show were produced by the cast.  They were all appropriate to the era and location. 

In the Heights was directed and choreographed by Laura Cupit, a first-time director.  Most of the direction was very good and all actors were clear in their entrances and exits.  For me, I did not believe that it was ‘hot’, during the show and some of the accents of the cast were not authentic enough.  This was something that could’ve been worked on more during rehearsals.  I thought that Laura’s directorial choices during the whole cast numbers were great.  These scenes were energetic and captivating.  The choreography was appropriate and engaging.  I particularly liked 96,000 – one of my favourite songs.  It was vocally and visually stunning.

Ashley M A Walsh commandeered the orchestra as Musical Director.  The orchestra were brilliant.  There was a great mix between the sound and the mixing and Ashley did very well to play around with the vast jungle of rhythms that is in this complex score. 

Jake Hankey played the role of Usnavi De La Vega.  Jake was superb in this role and looked relaxed as he sang and rapped his way through the vocal numbers.  He had a great rapport with his romantic partner, Vanessa and he looked fully in control of every scene.  Jake was suitably and comedically subtle; knowing when to draw the audience in, during the more serious sections.

Vanessa, played by Claire Cannon, gave a vocal masterclass onstage.  Her vocals were on-point.  Claire did well to try and find a balance between the cheeky, provocative, comedic and loving sides to her character.  I liked her rapport with Jake and believed that they cared for each other.

Benny, played by Josh Hankey, was vocally brilliant.  He had good stage presence and I liked the way that he interacted with various characters.  Josh told the story well and his diction and projection were excellent.  I didn’t believe that Benny was in love with Nina and that their love scenes were a little forced.

Nina was portrayed by Natalie Hayes.  Natalie was suitably cast as the role of the college girl who had gone away and come back home again.  Natalie’s vocals were excellent.  She had a great ability, knowing when to sing sweetly and when to push her chest voice.  During the softer moments of the score, such as ‘Breathe’, Natalie’s voice was like melting chocolate!  As I mentioned above, I didn’t believe that Nina was in love with Benny.

Rosie Shields played the role of Abuela Claudia.  Rosie’s vocals were great.  Rosie is exceptionally good at telling a story through song.  Rosie did well in this role and she had a good rapport with Usnavi.  I felt that Rosie could’ve spotlighted Abuela’s illness more to the audience during the first act, giving them a spotlight for her upcoming death in the second act.

Camila Rosario and Kevin Rosario were played by Gemma Thorniley and Andy McQuoid.  They were suitably strong and matriarchal and worked well together on stage.  I liked the sternness that Gemma brought to Camila and felt that she sang well vocally during ‘Enough’ and told the story of the song.  Whilst I appreciated Andy’s version of Kevin, It would’ve been nice to see a bigger change in Kevin’s vulnerable side as an anthesis to the strong and powerful business side of the character. 

Sonny, Usnavi’s cousin, was played by Ed Parry.  Ed played the role with a great hipster attitude.  He sang well and had good stage presence.  Ed was good at finding the comedic sides to Sonny and worked well with both Usnavi and Graffitti Pete.

Jimmy Dean played Graffitti Pete with an excellent energy and enthusiasm.  The energy picked up every time that he was on stage and, I, along with the audience, really enjoyed Jimmy’s performance.  Jimmy was able to find great humour and made his character more rounded because of this.  Well done Jimmy.  You oozed coolness!

The Piragua Guy was played by Neil Atherton.  Neil sang very well vocally and had an excellent rapport with others on stage.  Neil was also able to find the humour within his character and the audience very much enjoyed his performance.  There were a few times that The Piragua Guy had direct contact with the audience; this also broke down the forth wall.  Pehaps I’m being too picky, as the audience loved him!

Carla and Daniela, the hairdressers, were played by Alexandria Smith and Natasha Bill.  Both women were vocally great and had a good rapport with their neighbours and colleagues, Usnavi, Nina, Sonny and Vanessa.  I liked the character choices they made and felt that they told the story well, through song.

There are far too many other people in the cast to mention.  Overall, this show was visually and vocally superb!  The vocals in particular were excellent.  Some of the dancing seemed a little lack lustre or under-rehearsed but this did not distract from the story.  I thoroughly enjoyed this production and I thank Encore Productions for their hospitality.  I look forward to watching their next show, Footloose, in September.