BWW Interview: Damian Buhagiar On Returning To IN THE HEIGHTS
Damian Buhagiar's credits include the UK tour of Jersey Boys and Bugsy Malone at Lyric Hammersmith. He's currently performing in the West End production of In the Heights as Sonny, a role which he originated at Southwark Playhouse in 2014. The show celebrates its first birthday at King's Cross Theatre this Friday.
What made you want to return to In the Heights?
I did it at Southwark for a month when it opened, and that was a fantastic experience. Coming back to it at King's Cross is just amazing - it's quite a different experience. Obviously the character feels the same, but it's such a different space. That's enable me to explore me and it's so interesting to play around with it - find new points to connect with the audience, as they're on the sides now rather than more out front.
Did you change up the choreography much?
I love with working with Drew McOnie - he's amazing. When I came back to the moves, I still vaguely remembered them, so we've been able to bring stuff back in and also explore and find new stuff. The show is brilliant to perform - it's very energetic, vibrant and colourful, and every move has that emotional connection.
Can you relate to Sonny?
The moves, everything, it's just me - the whole character is me. I can definitely relate to this young guy, and I really just embrace it.
Did you have much experience rapping?
I've never really done that before on stage, as you don't often get the chance to. Obviously I listen to songs on the radio, but stuff like beatboxing and breakdancing, it's a passion you want to invest time in yourself, rather than something that's trained in that way. It has to come from you.
Did you always want to perform?
I started in Stagecoach when I was pretty much just a baby back in Malta, where I'm from. Then I went to Tring for sixth form. That's when I knew I wanted to take it seriously. It's what I love doing, committing to something and hoping the audience appreciates it.
What's it like being back in the In the Heights company?
It's such a great community. That makes it so much easier - the show, the job, the storytelling. People can see that and they really respond when you're all connecting and it's coming naturally. You don't always find a cast that mingles so well.
We share a dressing room and we're always playing music, grooving along, having a lovely time. It's so much fun. I'm always looking forward to getting to work. And it's great reuniting with the original Southwark people - that brings back so many great memories.
How have the new cast members changed things?
They definitely bring a new energy, which you respond to and that makes you want to experiment. It's the kind of show where you can do that, you're not stuck doing this number exactly this way and then the next one. There's room to try things out, which is great. And this time the actress playing Nina is younger than me, so I'm quite pleased! I'm not the baby anymore.
Did you get to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda when he came over?
I did, I got to meet Lin! I was doing something else and I said "Oh my god, I have to get down there," so I got in the car and watched the second act. I got to say hi to him and take a picture - it was so nice to meet him finally. He's amazing.
Would you like to be involved in Hamilton?
I've actually auditioned for Hamilton. I went up for Philip, but I didn't get through - I'm a bit too young. But I'll definitely go and see it, and you never knoW. Maybe another time. But then In the Heights came along, and I'm really happy to be back doing that, so it's all worked out.
What's your favourite number to perform?
"96,000", by far. The energy of it. It's so cool.
What would you like to do in future?
Definitely more contemporary movement - I love Drew's style. It works really well with me. He's someone I'd love to work with again. Maybe assisting him, so I can learn from him how to choreograph and make shows. But I'm quite a versatile performer, so I'm open to anything. Whatever's different and energetic and makes me work harder.
How long will you stay with In the Heights?
I'm definitely doing it till January, which is a good length of time. If it extends, I'll have a think about that and carrying on.
Finally, why do you think the show has lasted and been so embraced by audiences?
It's a community, and just the joy we bring on stage and the energy - that's like nothing else.