Taking on Lin Manuel Miranda’s Olivier & Tony award-winning production In The Heights is a challenge but one that is entirely relished by BITA Musical Theatre in their vibrant and fresh production.
It’s a story about home, family and love. Centered around a group of young Latinos living in a Barrio in Washington Heights, New York. Nina returns home from college feeling like she has let herself and her family down after dropping out, Vanessa is desperate to get out of the Barrio and make something of herself and Usnavi is holding his business of owning the local bodega together whilst pining for a date with Vanessa. Ultimately it is a story of young people growing up and facing the obstacles life throws their way, and it couldn’t be performed by a better group of young performers.
BITA Musical Theatre are a young performing arts group aged 14-18, and who better to really capture the root of the story of In The Heights than students that are actually going through the same issues in their everyday life. Jack Christou takes on the lead of Usnavi, and his performance is utterly phenomenal. Grasping the physicality of the role whilst intertwining it with the rapping is a tough skill to master but Jack does it effortlessly. Whether it’s the witty remarks, sharp dialogue or painful emotion, he does it all convincingly. His stage presence is completely commanding, proving he is a real star and is on to a huge career in theatre. Usnavi’s relationship with his younger cousin Sonny really lifts the comedy in the piece, and Billy Vale is tremendous. He spits the words out brilliantly during his musical numbers and has faultless comedy timing.
Mirroring Jack’s natural portrayal of the role is Erin Chalk as Nina. Not only is her voice remarkable, but she approaches the sensitivity of the role so exquisitely, and has completely made it her own. Her relationship with Benny, the young taxi driver that works for her father is a really beautiful element of the story. Their duet When You’re Home both sounds stunning and feels touching. Dec Foster not only masters the chemistry between himself and Nina, but he captures the charming and charismatic nature of Benny superbly, particularly in the number Benny’s Dispatch.
Usnavi’s love interest Vanessa is portrayed by Martha Graham, has an impressive voice which is evident the minute she opens her mouth to belt out her solo It Won’t Be Long Now. Trained as a classical singer, her ability to shine in the confident and sassy role of Vanessa shows her excellent versatility as an actor. Similarly, Mollie-Mae Hallahan as Daniella the salon owner and Sharnna Benbow as Carla bring a huge amount of humour to the show. The feisty Latinos are quick-witted and straightforward, and Hallahan really stands out on stage as she uses every inch of her body to encapsulate the role, really giving it her absolute all – a highlight being her powerful vocals in Carnaval del Barrio.
The heart and soul of the production is Abuela, who nurtures the youngsters and guides them on their way. Her strength, patience and faith is what really holds the neighbourhood together and Amy Evans takes this on impeccably. Her physicality is exceptional and she is unrecognisable as a young woman playing such an older role. Equally, Vicky Addis and Matthew Perry as Nina’s mother and father Camila and Kevin prove to be outstanding. They portray the adults in everything they do, whether it be their physicality, chemistry with one another and vocal tone, which is apparent through their solos. Perry’s depiction of the hard-working and caring father in Inutil and Vicky’s dominance in Enough were both real crowd pleasers.
Choreographed by Lindon Barr and Attiye Partridge, the movement is dynamic and boasts tremendous energy from the ensemble, creating an atmosphere that is rarely created in theatre. Set designer Andrew Exeter was inventive with the vision behind the look of the piece and the lighting really reflects the vivacious and contemporary feel. Not to mention Musical Director Chris Passey who has done a spectacular job tightening the divine harmonies in the piece.
BITA are producing some real stars and despite a few technical hitches which of course is understandable for such a short amount of rehearsal in the space, overall it is a production that sets the bar high in terms of youth theatre. These are young professionals that are embarking on bright futures and they couldn’t have chosen a better musical to display that.
In The Heights is moving, fiery and oozes passion from every single actor on stage which is incredibly inspiring to witness.
On at the Birmingham Rep until the 15th of July, tickets and information can be found here.