In The Heights came to a close on Sunday 8th January at the Kings Cross Theatre on the West End. I was lucky enough to see it twice, one of those times for a blogger event for their first birthday celebrations with complimentary tickets, a drinks reception and a salsa class with the cast!
In order to commemorate the show, I thought I’d throwback to my blog post and interview with Sam Mackay during the first birthday celebrations.
‘In The Heights’ was created by Lin Manuel Miranda, who also happens to be the mastermind behind Broadway smash ‘Hamilton’. ‘In The Heights’ opened on Broadway in 2008 and was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, winning four of them for: Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations. As well as this it won a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album!
In 2015, ‘In The Heights’ transferred to London’s West End at the King’s Cross Theatre and won 3 Olivier Awards including Outstanding Achievement in Music.
“IN THE HEIGHTS” is an uplifting and exhilarating journey into Washington Heights, one of Manhattan’s most vibrant communities – a place where the coffee is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggle can be deciding which traditions to take with you, and which ones to leave behind. With a gripping story and unforgettable Latin and hip-hop infused score, “IN THE HEIGHTS” is a ground-breaking contemporary musical about what it takes to make a living, what it costs to have a dream, and what it means to be home.
The birthday celebrations began with a salsa class led by Rafaella Covino (Swing & Dance Captain) and Johnny Bishop (Graffiti Pete) teaching us the ‘armbreaker’ routine from the club scene. Initially it was a very will we/won’t we situation when it came to attending this salsa class, as I had visions of fucking up the routine majorly, breaking various cast member’s leg and being the sole reason ‘In The Heights’ had to take a temporary hiatus. However, we took the plunge and it turned out I wasn’t so useless after all and had various cast members dance with me to show my sister how it was done. Kudos to Damian Buhagiar (Sonny), Stephanie Rojas (Carla) and Tara Young (Swing & Ensemble) who recognised my inner salsa goddess. Next up, Strictly Come Dancing?
Interview with Sam Mackay
Soph and I were also lucky enough to interview Sam Mackay who took over Lin Manuel Miranda’s role of Usnavi for the London run.
Soph: So, I’ve been really nervous and excited to meet you…
Soph: Because you could potentially be the next Hamilton!
Sam: Let’s not say that! Let’s not jinx that one! *touches wood*
Soph: So you met Lin a few weeks ago…
Sam: I did yeah.
Soph: What was that like?
Sam: He is a wonderful, humble man. He’s a very genuine person and yeah, very humble. He’s so giving in his nature. The thing about Lin is, when you meet him all of the hype that you have around him, all of the hysteria that surrounds Lin, because he is the talent that he is; you wouldn’t know, if you just met and chatted with him because he’s just on a level. He doesn’t need that hype, he’s just a very humble guy who happens to be a very talented writer and so creative. It’s lovely to meet him. I’ve met him twice now and both times he was just the same, chilled, lovely and very giving.
Soph: When was the first time you met him?
Sam: He came over when we were doing the Southwark and we did it in a fringe venue for like a month and he missed it, his parents came and saw it and they loved it, said some lovely things and went back to him and he said he wanted to come and meet us all. He was writing ‘Hamilton’ at the time so he was too busy then. So he came over after the show had finished to meet everybody and we got all the company together and we all met him for a little drink. This was when his wife, Vanessa, was very heavily pregnant and they were both just really charming. It was so nice to share our enjoyment of the show with him and just tell him “thank you” really because we’re all fans of the show too and well, how can you not be?!
Izzy: Because of that hype initially, were you nervous to replace him essentially for the London run?
Sam: Yeah, to take over that mantle totally, to play this role, I wanted to play this role for five years! I actually moved away from musical theatre for a bit and was focusing on straight acting and plays and TV and then this was the one role that I was desperate to play and I kept saying if this is here, if the show is here, please get me an audition, please let me be in the room because I’m a fan of the show first and foremost. To be here and to be talking about it and to be discussing it, it’s still crazy to me and I’m still besotted with the show. It’s such a wonderful piece. To be Usnavi, I still have to pinch myself.
*Woman comes and tells us we need to move onto our last question*
Soph: Ok, so one more question! We’ll make it a good one.
Izzy: Ok, so we know you’re a big fan of rap, hip-hop and we obviously know you’re able to rap…
Izzy: Are you able to freestyle?
Sam: Oooh! So freestyle is a separate skill that I respect highly. I’ve been practising since I’ve been in the show in my room for hours on end freestyling.
Izzy: Do you fancy sharing one of your freestyle raps?
Sam: Absolutely not! *laughs* Not for now!
Izzy: Anything prewritten you can share with us now?
Sam: Ooh, I’ve got a few. I dunno which would be suitable for this situation! Oh Lord, erm…
Soph: We told you it would be a good one!
Sam: I know! *Laughs* I’m just trying to think what would be appropriate because some of it is kind of…Ok, this is not a particularly fun one but…
Soph: That was so good!
Izzy: Ayyyy, you’ve got a rap career in your hands!
Sam: *Laughs* Something like that! Apparently so! There were some stumbles in there though!
Izzy: You could write a musical of your own maybe?
Sam: Well, maybe! I do write and do all kinds of things!
Soph: Thank you for speaking to us!
Sam: Thank you!
We then watched ‘In the Heights’ for our second time, this time with the brand new cast for the rest of the run.
Of course, Sam Mackay, plays the brilliant and funny Usnavi, serving an almost narrator-esque role bringing all the various characters together. Gabriela Garcia plays Nina and her voice is absolutely stunning and will evoke intense feelings of jealousy that one person can be so beautiful and simultaneously be so talented. Playing beside her were Vas Constanti and Juliet Gough who were convincing as concerned parents, that would go above and beyond to ensure their daughter’s success. Norma Atallah plays the feisty Abuela and left you wanting her to be your grandma too.
The role of Vanessa was taken over by Sarah Naudi (who played the role of Carla the last time we had seen the show). Her performance was brilliant and she made the role of Vanessa much more likeable and fun! Daniela was played by Jocasta Almgill, who was fabulously sassy and really stood out! Sadly, her final performance will be 2nd October but Aimie Atkinson will be taking over. The role of Benny was taken over by Arun Blair-Mangat who has a great voice and made a really fun and charismatic Benny.
The choreography is absolutely insane and will leave you feeling a little concerned for your own athletic ability given that all the ensemble seem to be able to throw their body weight around and make it look good, whilst most people watching would probably put a hip out.
I’ll be very sad to see this show leave the West End. It’s an original uplifting musical with plenty of heart and soul, here’s to an eventual In The Heights revival!