Monday, 5 May 2014

In The Heights - Southwark Playhouse

AS cities develop and grow it has knock on effects for those people who live in them.It is these communities and the way they cope and adapt which is the subject of a musical which is to get its London premiere next week.
In The Heights tells the story of the largely Dominican-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York City which is coming to terms with changes to its neighbourhood.
Featuring music and lyrics by Lin Manuel Miranda, the story by Quiara Alegria Hudes is set over the course of three days and involves an ensemble cast of characters.
It is a celebration of home, traditions, dreams, community and identity, but it is also a chronicle of the challenges facing a neighbourhood on the cusp of change.
It is directed by Southwark resident and associate director of smash hit West End musical Matilda, Luke Sheppard.
“I was really drawn to it for a number of reasons," he says. "It’s got everything that makes a great musical - songs which blew my mind and took my breath away when I heard them, a gripping story, incredible energy, brilliant choreography and an amazing Latin and hip hop infused score.
"It’s fantastic and with this particular production we have got a great young cast of 17 plus eight musicians so I’m really excited about it.
“I’m also really pleased to be bringing it to the Southwark Playhouse because it’s such a great theatre – there are only about 200 sets in the auditorium but that makes it exciting. It’s a much more imersive experience and the audience will really feel part of the action because they are so close to it.
"Also I've wanted to work for the Southwark Playhouse for years - it has become an off West End venue that London hasn't had for a long time and in so many ways, this piece came along at just the right time.
"I feel very lucky that the theatre took a risk with this show but give me the choice of any theatre and it's the one I would choose."
And the 27-year-old adds that’s not the only reason it’s the perfect place to stage the production which originally opened on Broadway in 2008 and won four Tony awards including best musical and best original score.
"I have lived in the Elephant & Castle area for more than five years now and have seen great change in that time with all the redevelopments going on so the story of In The Heights resonates with me on a personal level and it's a topic that's very close to my heart,” he says.
"Southwark Playhouse is my local theatre and sits at the heart of a community faced with similar significant redevelopment to that which is featured in the show, so it’s an inspiring, and totally appropriate place to be staging it,” he adds.
"It’s a very similar situation though with this piece, rather than Elephant & Castle, it’s set in the Heights, one of Manhattan’s most vibrant communities.
"The Hispanic people who live there are full of hopes and dreams but there are also lots of pressures because of the change that is just around the corner.
“When these different groups moved to New York originally they were ostracised and had to build their own communities. But as the city spread and grew, different groups moved in, gentrification of these areas took place, rents went up and those who had originally made that area their home were pushed out.
“It’s a universally applicable story and I see it very much in my own neighbourhood. There is a strong message here about not engineering communities but embracing them and what they have to offer.
"When they proposed the plans for Elephant & Castle one of the towers was to be called the Tribeca Tower - but why pretend it's like New York when it's not? It makes no sense.
"That said, I feel very lucky to live here - there is so much going on, it's diverse and an exciting cultural hub what with all the theatres, galleries, music venues and the visual arts scene. I absolutely love it.
"However, much like those in the show, I worry that what has happened in other parts of London such as Kings Cross, where small businesses which have been created by these communities end up being forced out because of these big developments, will happen here."
Despite the uncertainty faced by the people depicted in the show, he says it is a story full of joy, hope and the spirit which thrives in these areas.
"It's an incredibly moving story. Of course it is poignant and has a sad edge to it but it is definitely about optimism and the resilience of coping in a tricky situation," he enthuses.
"In fact it's actually a real celebration of the stories behind these characters. I hope it inspires people and encourages those who may not have been to see a show here to take a chance.
"There's a lot of love and laughter and that really shines through."

In The Heights is at Southwark Playhouse, between May 9 and June 7. Tickets £22, concessions £18. Visit or call the box office on 020 7407 0234.

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