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Q&A: In The Heights

Published 19 May 2014

A rapper, a dreamer, a party animal and an extreme sports fanatic; the company of In The Heights is as eclectic as the four-time Tony Award-winning show’s score.

Set in Washington Heights where the rhythm of three generations plays on the breeze – offering the show a brilliantly varied soundtrack covering everything from R&B to salsa – when it was announced In The Heights would be making its London premiere this month, the buzz surrounding the Southwark Playhouse’s production was as electric as audiences have been finding the cast’s acclaimed performances.

To find out more, we chatted to four of the show’s talented company, David Bedella, Josie Benson, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Sam Mackay, and discovered they are all well and truly under the spell of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Broadway hit that hits home exactly what it means to be, well, home.

Describe your character in six words.

Bedella: Steadfast, honourable, loving, stubborn, brave, traditional.

Benson: Camila is loyal, maternal, hardworking, hospitable, loving and determined.

Hamilton-Barritt: Outspoken, leader, optimist, mamma, drama, family.

Mackay: Ever dreaming cornerstone of the community.

What has been your favourite moment of being a part of this production so far?

Bedella: Performing the finale. It moves me to tears each time and I love that feeling.

Benson: So far I’ve loved listening to the amazing singing voices and watching the incredible dancers. I [was] often holding back tears in rehearsals because the music’s just so beautiful and sung to such a high standard! The dancers in the show are phenomenal, sexy and full of life!

Hamilton-Barritt: Meeting the talented creatives and cast who are all so rightly perfect in their roles.

Mackay: I would say the unforgettable read through on day one. The looks of astonishment and excitement as each cast member revealed their incredible talent and energy, I’ll never forget it. We were thrown in at the deep end but with each mouth opened and song/line delivered you could feel the relief and enthusiasm fill the room… we’ve really got something here.

In The Heights explores what it means to be home. Where is home for you?

Bedella: I think we all learn eventually that home is not necessarily a location on a map as much as it is knowing who and what in life grounds you and contributes to your wholeness.

Benson: Hampstead Heath is home, I’m there every day with my dog, a beautiful place.

Hamilton-Barritt: North west London. Born in the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead village and my Happy Place is Golders Hill Park & zoo. I fell in the pond there, ate ice cream there, stalked the animals there, cartwheeled there and many other things there.

I have a certain place I go in that park which always relaxes me. I’ve been going there for as long as I can remember and it still has the same effect. My imagination would run riot in this certain spot as it’s so romantically creepy. I would wonder off to be alone there as soon as I could walk; much to the calmness of my folks as they knew they would always be able to find me. That’s where home is.

Mackay: My city will always be my home, London. Specifically where I was born and bred in the north west. I have endless memories of roaming the area as a kid. Discovering who I was, getting up to a whole manner of mischief, rapping in garages and on pirate radio stations, and generally trying to enjoy my childhood. It’s the home of my love for the arts and for music, which is such a huge part of my life. Of all the wonderful places I have been and hope to go in life, this city will always fill me with pride.

The show also looks at the lengths it can take to achieve your dreams. What lengths have you had to go to for a life on stage and what have you had to sacrifice?

Bedella: I suppose in a way my residence in the UK has been my biggest sacrifice in the sense that in order to stay here with this career that I love I have had to be away from the people I love most in the world.

Benson: Well in the early days, when my twin boys were younger, I sacrificed spending time with them. They’re 19 now, I think they forgive me! 

Hamilton-Barritt: It’s more a matter of what my parents had to sacrifice to send me to theatre school. I’m very lucky they were both on my side; richer and poorer they made it happen like many parents with children who choose to do what I do. It’s not cheap funding theatre kids.

Mackay: I think most people will agree we sacrifice financial stability! In fact you could say stability on the whole. It’s a topsy-turvy world; one minute you’re on HBO living the dream, the next you’re wondering how you’re going to pay the next bill. I am extremely blessed to have an incredible family who have supported me in so many ways through the years to keep me pushing in the direction I have been, without their sacrifices and help who knows where I’d be!

What is your favourite moment in the show?

Bedella: I love singing the finale. It moves me to tears each and every time and I love that feeling.

Benson: When my character finally explodes into song in act two. She’s kept it all in up until then, so it’s a wonderful release.

Hamilton-Barritt: Eve Polycarpou performing Paciencia Y Fe. I was in tears and stopped breathing the first time I heard her. Eve’s performance overall makes me forget to breathe. I wanna be just like her when I grow up, but she’s way cooler than me.

Mackay: Err… I mean…I love the whole damn show! There are so many brilliant moments and each is special for different reasons. However for that very reason I guess my favourite is that moment right at the beginning before Lights Up On Washington Heights, knowing the audience has it all to come.

How will you be spending your time during the run at Southwark Playhouse?

Bedella: Partying!

Benson: I shall be juggling performing, running Devas Youth Club – I’m the Senior Manager there –  and running 26.2 mile marathons as I’m in training for Jungle Marathon, which takes place in the Amazon in October 2014!

Hamilton-Barritt: Getting as much out of the short run as it’s a dream and joy to be playing this part. I’m in love with this show and so happy to be part of it.

Mackay: Rapping. I will mostly be rapping, followed by some rap… and then I’ll probably rap some more.

Why did you want to be a part of this show?

Bedella: I have loved this show from the first moment I heard it. It is packed with heart and the embrace and understanding of the Latino community. But the clincher for me taking the job was knowing that Drew McOnie would be choreographing, which really meant that he’d be shaping and inspiring all of our performances and he is brilliant; and meeting our director Luke Sheppard. His understanding of the relevance of this story and these people, to London today, had me knowing I’d be a fool not to do this show. And I wasn’t wrong. The experience has been one of the best of my career and the show is off the charts good!

Benson: Quite simply because it’s a great show with an awesome production team and cast!

Hamilton-Barritt: I can relate to the concept in my own personal way – with my own genetic background, living in a cosmopolitan society – as can the rest of the cast, which makes it all the more special for all involved. Shows like this one, you’re just waiting for them to come by, so when it does and you’re given the opportunity it’s the best feeling. We’re all so happy to have been chosen.

Mackay: From the moment I heard this score a few years back I had dreamed that this show would make it to London [and] that I would have an opportunity to be a part of a show that I really connected with. Hip hop has long been a big part of my life as well as theatre, so the marrying of the two was almost too good to be true. The issues discussed in the show about home and belonging were things I really connected with and so I had said to my agent that whilst I was taking a break from musical theatre, if this one show ever by some miracle landed in my home city, it didn’t matter where exactly it or I was, I wanted in. It came, I was lucky enough to be seen and here I am!

In The Heights runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 June. For information and tickets visit the Southwark Playhouse website.

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