Bath University Student Musical Society’s (BUSMS) production of ‘In the Heights’ opened at the Edge on Thursday 12th October 2017. At first, I was apprehensive at the idea of Tony-Grammy-award winner and pop culture darling Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about life in the racially diverse community of Washington Heights, NYC, to be brought to life by BUSMS, especially following our piece on POC casting in student plays at the university.
The musical, which touches on the struggles of the Hispanic-Latino-American neighborhood of the northern Manhattan borough, is a little hip-hop gem infused with Spanish-lyrics, salsa, and Miranda’s stellar freestyle rap signature– definitely a step away from BUSMS preferred material, which is more ‘Sunshine on Leith’ than ‘Dreamgirls’, if you catch my drift.
Is this a step in the right direction? Excusing the technicalities of first night performances, such as volume and ar-ti-cu-la-tion, the spectrum of cultural appropriation loomed over the stage for the first half of Act 1, as the actors seemed to struggle with raps, stammer through double-negatives, and unconvincingly rush by their Spanish lines.
However, despite these minor flaws, it would be dishonest to call this performance anything else than enjoyable, as witnessed by the full house on opening night. The set, composed of a storied-building, a semi-convincing bodega, and complete with a live orchestra, looked and sounded surprisingly professional. The mise-en-scène, with quality choreography, took advantage of every inch of space on stage, in order to offer an energetic and colorful performance that increasingly mesmerized the audience after each musical number.
Carrying this never-dull production are a cast of talented people who managed to bring the comradeship of a close-knit neighborhood to life, and render every single character likeable, engaging the audience with their own individual stories. Special recognition must be given to the actress playing the character of Nina Rosario, for her touching portrayal as a struggling student as well as her accomplished singing voice.
Complete with a few laughs and more than one emotional moment, BUSMS’ ‘In the Heights ‘ is a well-executed musical and overall enjoyable performance.