Review: Phoenix Productions' In The Heights, Dolman Theatre, Newport
In the Heights features music and lyrics by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda and is based on the book by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The story, which is set over the course of three days, centres on the dreams and aspirations of the characters that reside in the largely Hispanic-American neighborhood of New York City's Washington Heights.
Comprising a score of hip-hop, salsa, merengue and soul music, the production is quite an ambitious musical to bring to any stage. Yet the ensemble company of Phoenix Productions' under the direction of choreographer Alice Urrutia and musical director Victoria Bryant have triumphed on their opening night with passion, energy and fun, making In The Heights an enthralling show from start to finish.
The show wastes no time in setting the scene for its sweltering backdrop as Graffiti Pete sets about making his artistic mark om Usnavi's Delicatessan. Through the shows rapping title song, the audience are cleverly introduced to the character's that visit Usnavi's store as well as those that inhabit the neighbouring taxi rank and hair salon.
Leading the cast with an infectious and fun performance as Usnavi is JJ Delarama. Theres an air of believability about Usnavi's personal struggles as a businessman as he attemptis to woo the love of his life, Vanessa, The medium of rap becomes a tool that enables the audience to identify with Usnavi's inner thoughts, hopes and dreams. Delarama makes rapping articulately accessible as an art form and its pleasurable to see this genre used so effectively within the production.
Emily John is perfectly cast as Vanessa and gives a soulful performance on It Won't Be Long Now as well as stealing the company number 96,000 with her own vocal refrain "I'll be down town.." which is pure magic to hear.
Phoebe Jones and Owen Hughes are both energetic and memorable as loves young dreamers Nina and Benny. Jones' rendition of Breathe paves the way for several strong vocal performances including Everything I Know. Jones' duets with Hughes on both Benny's Dispatch and When The Sun Goes Down which see the pair display a good balance of movement which strengthens their chemistry on stage.
Sasha Pallari as brassy Hispanic hairstylist Daniela and her kooky co-worker Carla portrayed by Alivia Yemm bring a lot of fun to the proceedings. Both team up with Phoebe Jones and Emily John for a gossipy chit chat song No Me Diga (You Don't Say) which raises a few laughs from the audience while Pallari comes into her own as she leads the ensemble cast in both song and dance for Carnaval del Barrio in Act Two.
There are more musical moments to enjoy from Jordan Leigh as Piragua Guy,, Conor Donovan as Kevin, Rhea Morgan as Camila and Zoe Southcott as Abulela Claudia. All of which have individual solo spots which add depth to their characters and the unfolding storyline. Southcott's performance of Paciencia y Fe (Patience and Faith) is particularly heartfelt and moving and one of the shows many highlights.
Special mentions must also go to Rhys Evan Jones as Sonny and Daniel Butler as Grafitti Pete, both of whose appearances on stage throughout the show frequently brought smiles and laughter to the audience.
Last, but certainly not least are the company's ensemble singers and dancers, all of which bring the passion of In The Heights Puerto-Rican influences so visibly to life on the stage.
In The Heights is as fresh as it is modern and is a fabulously entertaining show with a positive air delivered by a talented young cast. It runs at the Dolman Theatre until May 19th.