In the Heights – Quick cover. (Theatre Review)

In the Heights

Blue Saint Productions

Sydney Opera House. You can find out more here.

Images: Clare Hawley

In my efforts to cover as many shows in Sydney as I can, I do not always get the chance to perform in depth analysis on each one. However, feedback is essential and it is my intention to offer this for productions in short form when I can’t provide long.

In the Heights performed in January 2019 at The Sydney Opera House is one such production. I did not get to the Hayes Theatre production in March 2018, so I can’t make the stage size comparisons I think might be essential to proper feedback here. However, I can say that this production contained all the exuberance and professionalism one has come to expect from Hayes Productions. Equally for those enthrall to Lin-Manuel Miranda already, this is a production that does him justice and acts as teaser (we’re all waiting for THAT musical) for Sydney audiences desperate to witness his oeuvre.

Like everything Lin-Manuel Miranda touches, In the Heights was a tremendous success in America, being nominated for thirteen Tony awards in 2008. It’s all set in Washington Heights, one of the ‘lesser known’ areas in the Manhattan borough. At least, outside New York that might be true. As a result, it presents a New York often forgotten to those who think instantly of Wall Street, Greenwich and Harlem. Herein lies its charm, as it riffs off identification sympathies gaining an ‘authenticity’ from its representation of second and third immigrant families and a culture marginalized by poverty and outsider status.

However, here equally lies its problem. The musical itself is plagued by stereotypes, even if the message is one of empowerment. Highly aspirational and cow-towing to capitalist ideology as established truths, In The Heights suffers from its ability to connect. We all love it because it venerates the position these folks find them in, and validates their cultural separateness. In the Heights therefore comes across as another add for American tourism that has little to do with a lifestyle poorly represented by the advertisement. It can’t help but look like a modern version of Westside Story – without the intellect or any sort of powerhouse homage.

In terms of production quality, there are no problems. The cast, headed up by Stephen Lopez as Usnavi and Olivia Vasquez as Vanessa (what a fabulous presence she is) has been padded out with an additional two by choreographer Amy Campbell which works well for the stage size. Classic numbers Carnival del Barrio and The Club are now large numbers that fill the large stage, excite the audience to that most joyful of all experiences, Latina dancing.

In The Heights is not here for long, but it’s worth a look to see what the fuss is all about. Director Luke Joslin is in his element here and Australian audiences get a good strong look at why In the Heights and Lin-Manuel Miranda have won so many hearts and minds.