Oak Bay High school student Miller Espinosa never imagined himself on stage.
He didn’t sing, except to himself, he didn’t dance or act.
However, two years ago friends heard him singing and humming to himself and encouraged him to join the school choir. Finding that he really enjoyed singing, Espinosa decided to try acting and dancing, to experience more of the performing arts.
Now, the Grade 12 student is the lead in Oak Bay High’s musical, In the Heights.
“It just all snowballed,” said Espinosa, 17. “This September I went in for auditions and I got the part.”
In the Heights is a musical set over three days in Washington Heights in New York City. Originally written in 1999 and performed on Broadway in 2008, it’s a story about a number of mostly Dominican-American characters, struggling as they live their lives in a poor neighbourhood.
Espinosa plays the part of Usnavi, the owner of a small bodega. The character lost both parents when he was young and dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, where he was born. Raised by a woman known as the grandmother to everyone in the barrio, Usnavi has a love interest.
Grade 12 student Sunny Sheffman plays one of the female leads, Nina Rosario. The neighbourhood admires the character for getting a scholarship to Stanford University, but she returns home after one year with disappointing news for her family.
Unlike Espinosa, Sheffman, 17, is no stranger to the stage. She has been singing since she was five and appeared in numerous community theatre productions. She often performs with the Victoria Operatic Society. She is also no stranger to this musical. She was familiar with the story and the songs as she had practiced them in her singing classes.
“The music is so much fun, it has a Latin and hip hop flow which is great to hear,” Sheffman said. “There is also lots of depth and dimensions. It’s a very interesting storyline.”
Oak Bay musical theatre teacher Steve Price said he was surprised with how well received the show has been by students.
“It’s got really upbeat music, salsa and a lot of rap. The kids are loving it,” Price said. “Everyone who is involved knows all the words now.”
About 80 people make up the cast and crew of the musical.
As for the future, Espinosa plans to attend Camosun College in the fall to become an electrician. However, since being bit by the theatre bug, he plans to attend theatre school afterward.
“I want something to fall back on,” Espinosa said about going to Camosun. “I really like acting. It’s such a powerful feeling to make someone feel a certain way and feel emotions when you’re displaying a fake personality.”
Sheffman is torn between studying music or science.
“I love science as well as singing,” she said. “I really want to become a doctor. A singing doctor maybe?”
In the Heights opens Friday, Feb. 21 at 7:30 p.m. It plays on Feb. 22 at 7 p.m., Feb. 23 at 2 p.m., and Feb. 26 to March 1 at 7:30 p.m. $12 adults, $10 students and seniors. Tickets are available at the school office or at the door.