The biggest musical on Broadway right now is Hamilton, and it is already proving to be most revolutionary indigenous musical to arrive there since Rent; a show that re-makes American history to make history itself. Its composer Lin-Manuel Miranda knows his musicals through and through, and though it speaks with its own unique rap voice, he populates it with references to other shows. And it's striking, seeing his earlier Broadway musical In the Heights again now in London after seeing Hamilton, how that show has led to the other.
There's definitely a torch being passed, and In the Heights owes a lot of its own energies to Rent that came before it in turn. That's just one of the delicious and refreshing joys of the show: like Rent, it is set in a specific milieu of contemporary New York — swapping the Lower East Side of Rent for the Upper Manhattan area of Washington Heights beyond 181st Street at the top of the island. Here, amongst Miranda's own Latino community, he has crafted a genuine and generous portrait of his own people.
And the musical also sprinkles in liberal references to Cole Porter and Sondheim, even as it adopts a more conventional format than Hamilton does. It's basically a group portrait of a local community in all its vibrant colours, set around the convenience store run by Sam Mackay's Usnavi and other local businesses that include a cab despatch company run by David Badella's Kevin and hairdresser's, run by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt's (now heavily pregnant) Daniela.
As we meet them and their families, a rich tapestry of personalities emerges, and they're given full, fabulous life by this stunning company. But the show finds its life source and force in movement: as choreographed by Drew McOnie, the show is in almost constant motion — and full of emotion as a result. Staged with the audience seated on either side of a large tongue of a stage that divides them, we are pulled right into its world, and the show throbs with energy and exhilaration.
Photography by Matt Humphrey for Curtain Call ©2020