The fast-paced, high-energy, Grammy award-winning, Tony award-nominated musical, In The Heights, brings with it a lot of expectations and high standards; but the scholars of Hyde Park High School show a keen drive to rise up to the challenge.
Danielle Bentel, producer and co-director of Hyde Park High School's production, In The Heights, tries to choose musicals that are age appropriate and those that the children can relate to while raising the bar by diversifying their vocal ranges, as well as pushing them out of their theatrical comfort zone. This approach has the students hooked into wanting to perform in her plays.
She believes that In The Heights is the perfect performance to display their amazing, raw talent as it encourages them to not only act, but sing and dance as well.
"Lin-Manuel Miranda (creator of the original In The Heights) incorporates all of that - a bit of salsa, hip hop, rap as well as it has a classic feel to it. From the lyrics to his notes and how it’s mashed together, each song has its own rhythm and gives off a certain message as well. If you listen to Paciencia, it is an old school track that takes you back to the 50s when Abuela Claudia is migrating into New York and how she felt about it. When you take the Spanish and translate it into English - it is deep and soulful"
Hyde Park High School, in conjunction with their 60th Anniversary, is premiering the show and Danielle feels that it would not be fair to South Africans who have not had the opportunity to view the performance in Broadway and at the West End, to see an adapted version. Her production will portray the musical in its originality so that the audience also has the chance to witness this 'hottest selling ticket' performance. This encouraged her children to train like professionals from the minute they walked into rehearsals until the minute that they leave each day, therefore encompassing a high standard of performance rather than, 'just a sweet high school production.'
Grade 10 learner, Busi who plays the character Vanessa, says that this raising of the bar is a lot of pressure, but it's so much more exciting and it will definitely push her into the direction that she wants to move into, which is Dramatic Arts. Her singing is on a natural professional level - it is definitely something you have to experience for yourself!
The roles that Danielle cast the children in, were taken with such care and certainty as she knew exactly what she was looking for in her characters and found such suitable roles for each character in terms of their look, mannerisms, vocal range and dance moves.
This held true for the two scholars that I was blessed to be in the presence of, as the characters who they portray almost mirrors their off-set behaviours that they have in 'real life'. Busi relates to her character Vanessa, as she is the type of person who wants to get out of the 'slums' that they live in and make something of herself. In the same way, Busi wants to further her career in the dramatic arts industry and 'make something of herself'.
Grade 12 learner, Linda has a down-to-earth, humble personality which is also seen in his character, Usnavi. He explains that 96,000 is his favorite song out of the show's soundtrack because in this song, each person is dreaming of what they would do if they received $96,000 and "it's interesting to see everyone's vision", he says. He goes on to say that he feels a sense of gratitude in his own life because by playing the character Usnavi, he now realises that there are people in the world who have less than he does.
Humility, beautiful vocal ranges, high-energy choreography and a lovely story line, In the Heights is a definite must watch for all ages!
“The show is a colourful, refreshing and exuberant celebration of the daily lives of characters from all walks of life, yet despite the challenges and hardship that life throws at them they remain a close knit community. For me, Hyde Park High School is also a community joined together by 60 years of hard work, dedication and family values, living up to our motto – ‘Hyde Park, a great place to grow up’”. Danielle Bentel
To find out more information about In the Heights and when it is being performed, click here.