When In the Heights made its New South Wales professional premiere last year at Hayes Theatre Co, it was a sell-out smash. Not only did the production (by Blue Saint Productions) quickly become a hot ticket, but it enjoyed widespread critical acclaim (receiving eight nominations for Sydney Theatre Awards).
Now, as part of the 2019 Sydney Festival, In the Heights has returned to the stage but this time, instead of the cosy 110-seat Hayes auditorium, the production has taken over the 2,700-seat Concert Hall at the Sydney Opera House.
With music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda and a book by Quiara Alegria Hudes, the Tony Award-winning musical tells the story of the members of an Hispanic community in the New York City neighbourhood of Washington Heights. Set to a strong Latin-infused hip-hop score, it’s a snapshot of their challenges and dreams, but also their collective reliance on each other in the face of adversity and change. It’s an exuberant celebration of the power of community.
Directed by Luke Joslin, this production remains every bit as electric as it was in its premiere season at the Hayes. The scaled-up set fills the large Concert Hall stage, while musical director Lucy Bermingham leads a nine-piece band in delivering a tremendously full-bodied reproduction of Miranda’s music. Additionally, the dance content was a standout feature at the Hayes and, on a larger stage, Amy Campbell’s remarkable choreography is showcased to the extent it deserves.
There have been some key cast changes since the Hayes run, but the new players do their predecessors proud. Stephen Lopez is polished, charismatic and authentic as narrator and bodega owner, Usnavi. He looks, sounds and dances the part to a tee. Joe Kalou is now aspiring entrepreneur, Benny, showcasing a solid tenor and similarly impressive dance moves.
When it comes to the old guard, Luisa Scrofani’s powerful voice remains an asset to her portrayal of Nina, Margi De Ferranti’s Abuela Claudia continues to offer one of the production’s standout vocal performances, and Ana Maria is wonderful as Camilla.
In the bigger room, In the Heights remains a vibrant, uplifting and immensely entertaining production. Sydney-siders are fortunate to get a second bite at such an enticing offering.
Read Theatre People’s original review of In the Heights at Hayes Theatre Co here.