Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote his first musical, In The Heights, in 1999, setting it in the New York City ghetto, Washington Heights, and basing it on the immigrant community that lives there. But though the details are specific, the message is universal according to Luke Joslin, director of a new production of the musical being staged at the Sydney Opera House.
“You don’t have to know something about Washington Heights particularly to get something out of it, or you don’t have to know anything about the Latino community,” says Joslin.
The plot has several storylines ranging across romance, family relationships, generational clashes, work and money dramas – everyday life issues that transcend boundaries.
“All told with a salsa-fuelled score,” says Joslin.
To bring it up to the present, a radio mash-up of contemporary news and cultural items has been used as a prologue. (Uncannily, the original script already contained a Trump reference!)
Joslin previously directed a very successful season of In The Heights at the Hayes Theatre and is bringing most of the same cast and crew across for this production.
“Basically, we took the Hayes model and we upscaled it,” explains Joslin, acknowledging the significant difference in scope between the Hayes and the Concert Hall of the Opera House. Despite this, he wants to recreate the sense of intimacy and make the audience “feel like they’re on the strip; like they’re on the beat with us.” Much of this will be achieved with a very effective, clever set design.
The musical itself is regarded as a trailblazer with its unconventional rap/salsa/pop score and street language lyrics. (Miranda later went on to write the phenomenally popular Hamilton.) The plays complexity of stories requires a finely tuned balance in performance energy.
“We go from spectacular choreography to sort of naturalistic storytelling in the next scene within about five seconds,” explains Joslin. “It’s unlike anything you probably would have ever seen before.”
Even the many people who saw the Hayes production two, three and up to four times are likely to find something new in this one. (RB)
Until Jan 20. Sydney Opera House, Bennelong Point, Sydney. $49-$139+b.f. Tickets & Info: www.sydneyoperahouse.com