In The Heights

February 14, 2018 | By | 3 Replies More

★★★☆☆    Fiery

The Biscuit Factory: Tue 13– Sat 17 Feb 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

The tuneful commitment of the young performers in A-Team’s production of In The Heights means that problems of a less than ideal staging are soon forgotten.

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s 2008 Tony Award-winning musical certainly contains some of the elements of later worldwide smash Hamilton, notably in its use of rapping in the musical numbers.

However, it is a less impressive piece, with its score notably less memorable. Despite the Latin tinges, the music is also much more conventionally ‘Broadway’ – as is its somewhat formulaic book about love, life and lottery tickets.

Life’s a lottery In The Heights. Pic A-Team Productions

The story of a largely Latino community in the New York barrio of Washington Heights does, however, have great deal of fun, energy and passion, and the A-Team’s young company respond to it with drive, gusto and skill.

Despite the success of Young Fathers, Edinburgh wouldn’t be anyone’s idea of the world capital of hip-hop, and the freezing caverns of the biscuit Factory do not necessarily suggest a New York neighbourhood in a heatwave. While there are definite drawbacks to the venue, the performers certainly make up for it.

exuberant rhymes

Central character Usnavi (named after the ‘US Navy’ sign on a warship that his immigrant parents took to be quintessentially American) is a store owner who acts as a narrator figure. Aidan Cross gives him a sympathetic, energetic air and performs his tricky rap-based numbers with real flair, relishing every one of Miranda’s inventive, exuberant rhymes.

A Scene from In The Heights. Pic A-Team Productions

Ailish Barry, Beth Williamson, Bethany McGurl, Ruby Leslie, Iona Thomson and Grace Peacock. Pic A-Team Productions

Glen Allan gives his friend, taxi dispatcher Benny, a similarly loose-limbed appeal. Allan also gets a chance to perform some touching romantic duets with Ailish Barry’s Nina, the local-girl-made-good who has won a scholarship to Stanford University but has found that the grass is not always greener elsewhere. Allan shows an enviable talent for supporting his duet partner rather than attempting to overshadow them.

This helps Barry be particularly impressive, with her featured songs showing not only an emotional melodicism but also a genuinely impressive control. She does not always belt it out just because she can, which is a lesson some others might learn. The way the songs are shared out is ideal for a young company, but can lead to a natural desire to seize the moment and grandstand just a little.

This is emphatically not the case with Eve Flockhart, whose one song as Nina’s mother Camila is an object lesson in how to combine singing and acting at the service of the song’s meaning.

rhythms

It is also the moment where the rhythms of the music come most alive. Otherwise, the Latin elements of the music often seem an addition to conventional showtunes rather than their heart. They are manifested by overlaid percussion, which rather than the light-hearted, almost skittish rhythms of salsa can come across here as a touch lumpy, and occasionally obscures some of the rapping.



There is no shortage of talent on display, with Grace Peacock’s kindly hairdresser Daniela a wonderfully larger-than-life characterisation and Ruby Leslie (her ingenuous assistant Carla) a well-judged comic performance.

Euan Huth gives Nina’s troubled father Kevin a touching gravitas, which also comes from Lola Aluko’s matriarch Abuela. Aluko seems effortless at portraying a much older character and has a real emotion in her voice.

There is also plenty of emotion from Beth Williamson as Usnavi’s love interest Vanessa – perhaps too much at times. Her voice is beautifully expressive, but when the songs start at maximum intensity there is not much room for manoeuvre.

Similarly, Fraser Kelsey’s turn as a seller of piraguas (a Puerto Rican iced dessert) is full of humour, but could do with a touch of light and shade; what starts as an appealing comic turn threatens to topple into absurdity.

likeably cheeky

Vinny Wolff makes Usnavi’s cousin Sonny likeably cheeky and thoroughly believable, while Peter Wright’s graffiti artist combines hulking menace with a more glaikit air that is extremely effective. Largely consistent accents and a commendable lack of reserve mean we could be in New York, even if some of the Spanish pronunciation might raise eyebrows.

Some of the In The Heights Cast. Pic A-Team Productions

Peter Wright, Vinny Wolff, Beth Williamson, Eve Flockhart, Fraser Kelsey and Aidan Cross. Pic A-Team Productions

Despite the occasional drowning out of the rapping, the balance of the music is well judged, with MD Thea Panainte driving it forward excitingly.

However, there are undoubted problems with the staging. The space at the Biscuit Factory features a large room with a stage raised only inches off the ground and no rake to the seating. Add in pillars, and the sightlines become unforgiving.

This problem is compounded by director Sean Quinn’s decision to have performers sitting down at pivotal moments, rendering them invisible to huge sections of the audience behind the front row in the middle. Those pillars, moreover, make large parts of the ensemble difficult to see from the sides. This is not helped by an ingenious but over-fussy design that requires constant resetting and can obscure performers.

While the space could clearly work for promenade productions or seating in the round, real consideration will have to go into whether another conventional end-on musical should be mounted here – in particular, one with such a large cast. It is a real shame for the chorus and for Leona Sime’s choreography that so much goes half-seen.

However, there is no denying the impact of much of the performance – committed, well judged and impressive.

Running time 2 hours 30 minutes including interval
The Biscuit Factory, 4-6 Anderson Place, EH6 5NP
Tuesday 13 – Saturday 17 February 2018
Evenings at 7.30 pm; Saturday Matinee at 2.30 pm.
Tickets: https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/3200362

A-Team Facebook: @ateamproductionsedinburgh
Twitter: @ATeamedinburgh

ENDS

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Comments (3)

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  1. Anne Miller says:

    Was at the opening night and thought the show was fabulous..Well done guys all the hard work has been worth it

  2. James laidlaw says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed the show and congratulations to all the cast, production team and musicians. I’m sure the young cast will have learned a great deal from their rehearsals and stage performances. Despite the restrictions of the venue, the amateur youths put on a terrific show and I wish them all the best for future productions.

  3. di says:

    the show was fab group gets little funding and have to use whatever premises they can to get at the rate they can afford but still manage to produce a great production the kids are very talented and all the backstage team have worked really hard

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