'A community of colourful residents on the brink of change’, is not just a tagline from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit musical In The Heights, it’s a line that runs through the heart of so many Londoners.
No strangers to juggling new surroundings and several languages, the cast of the City Academy Studio Company’s production were ready for the challenge of bringing this story told with Latin rhythms and Hip Hop lyrics to life.
The company poured their own experiences of pursuing passions in pastures new, whilst maintaining their Israelian, Australian, Cuban, Mexican and Spanish (to name a few) culture and roots, into their performances. Even from the audition process, Cristina Short (Ensemble) knew they were about to embark on something special: "From the very beginning, every single person felt personally connected and motivated...It was such an amazing experience to feel that energy, that drive, that gratitude at being part of something great…"
The energy from each cast member throughout their run at The Bridewell Theatre was boundless. It’s not hard to figure out where they found so much verve and motivation knowing how much this performance meant to them. Andrea Civera, who took on the role of Kevin Rosario, felt the sense of community in a way that was very natural as a unique bond formed backstage:
"The feeling that we did belong to a chosen family of our own away from home was very real in the rehearsal room and in the wings, and this definitely cemented us as a company and informed our performance."
The Studio Company is home to so many talented and driven individuals who took to the stage to retell their own story through the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Beatriz Bustillo’s (Ensemble) performance was inspired by her own lived experiences of "...what it is like to leave your people behind and become a Hispanic immigrant, a stranger in a strange land, and to then find your second family abroad." Beatriz felt that the shared passion the cast and crew had for the show meant that "...magic happened. It became something really special, a community, a home."
Saying the production was a true ‘team effort’ does not do that effort the justice it truly deserves. The collaborative environment promoted by cast and crew was truly appreciated by set designer extraordinaire Roberta Volpe: "Usually you don’t get all the creatives in the room until later in the process but, as an assistant, I got to be there from the beginning for every single rehearsal. Sometimes I would get glimpses of the bigger picture before everyone else - I think that is what keeps me coming back, knowing that I am witnessing a bit of magic."
Roberta’s vision came from the idea that the iconic Washington Bridge would not just act as a piece of relevant architecture but as an integral character: "Considering the structure of the Bridewell Theatre, the floor resembles a large canvas and I immediately liked the idea of having the characters dancing on the bridge. This is how the idea for the set was born."
Watch as Roberta Volpe's stunning Washington Bridge set design comes to life:
Giusy Pappalardo, Assistant Director and Stage Manager reiterated the appreciation felt by each crew member towards the cast:
“From promotion, sets, costumes and props.That dedication and support really raised the stakes. If watching the show, you felt like you were watching a community, it is because they truly created one..and I can see it continuing long after the show has finished its run.”
The Studio Company may have felt luck was on their side in having the opportunity to perform this exciting new musical, but luck was truly on the side of the audience who knew they were experiencing a truly special Musical Theatre Department moment.
Take a look at how this magic combination of experience, talent and heart made it to the stage:
Words by: Dani Black
Story by: The City Academy Studio Company, with thanks