A Quick Chat With Bianca Baykara – In The Heights

After rehearsing part time for just over a month, NIDA graduate Bianca Baykara and the Australasian company of Tony Award winning musical In The Heights are preparing for their first performance at Chapel off Chapel tonight.

Bianca Baykara. Image by Sean Higgins.
Bianca Baykara will star in the Australian premiere of In The Heights. Image by Sean Higgins.

The cast of 20 are debuting the hit Broadway tuner in Australia (under the direction of James Cutler with choreography by Yvette Lee) in a production which Baykara, who plays the role of Vanessa, says is dear to her heart.

“it’s one of my favourite musicals, and Vanessa had always been a dream role for me. I actually auditioned for NIDA with the song ‘Breathe’ from the show. The story and music really struck a chord with me – and the rest of the world it seems!

In The Heights won Tony awards in 2008 for Best Musical, Best Original Score; & the Grammy award for Best Musical Show album. It was also nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and now it’s playing a limited season at Chapel off Chapel in Melbourne.

“I think Melbourne is the perfect place to debut In The Heights as it is such a cultural melting pot! The themes of community and home are so relevant to a Melbourne audience, and many of the cast’s families (including my own) immigrated to Australia from other countries.”

We caught up with Bianca Baykara to ask her our 20 questions ahead of her first performance as Vanessa this evening!

What’s your name and what do you do?

Bianca Baykara. I am an actor.

What’s your most underrated or unknown talent?

I have a knack for mathematics and was a Physics major at university before heading to NIDA.

What makes you laugh?

My friends, Family Guy, funny animal videos on YouTube. I am one of those who laugh at inappropriate times – and loudly!

What are you reading?

I have a few books currently underway – I tend to read a few chapters and then I start the next book – whoops! Currently in the process are ‘Gone Girl’ & JLo’s autobiography ‘True Love’.

Bianca Baykara. Image by  Jason de Plater.
Bianca Baykara. Image by Jason de Plater.

Who is your role model?

I have a few – I like to always keep myself inspired. Rita Moreno is a big influence, she really paved the way for ethnic actresses with an enviable collection of Oscar, Grammy, Tony & Emmy awards. Another big influence is Lea Salonga. I find her to be an elegant performer and her vocal quality inspires me to keep working hard on my own skills. I must also mention Karen Olivo, who originated the role of Vanessa in In The Heights. She’s a force to be reckoned with, and I stuck a photo of her with her Tony award on my dressing room mirror during ‘The King & I’ I’m inspired by women who play the kind of roles I want to play.

The world needs more…

Love! It’s the clichéd beauty queen answer but really… world peace. And more Kardashian reality shows.

The world needs less…


What tools do you need to be creative?

I have a really great network of teachers who have instilled a great work ethic in me! I love to work in the studio with my teachers to better my skills and work on my repoitoire. I’m also constantly listening to music, I like electronica, funk, soul, pop… And I like discovering new music theatre soundtracks.

What/where is your happy place?

Ever since I was a kid, I have loved Cape Schank on the Mornington Peninsula. Nowadays, Gordon’s Bay is my favorite place to chill. Give me the ocean air any day!

Which show (other than your own) you think people should drop everything and see?

Aladdin on Broadway! I was more excited than the kids sitting around me much to their amusement – I squealed when the overture started. Hopefully it makes it to Australia.

What was the last piece of theatre/film/TV that really left an impression on you?

I was in New York recently and the show that had the greatest effect on me was Disgraced. It won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and rightfully so. I was rocked by this show and feel it’s a really important piece of theatre in today’s society. The play centres on themes like Islamophobia and the self-identity of Muslim-Americans. I really hope it gets a season here in Australia!

There isn’t enough art about …

Challenging racial and ethnic prejudice a la Disgraced.

What three things can’t you live without?

Spotify, my car & fruit.

Go-to shower belting song?

I am a huge Chromeo fan so usually something off their new album ‘White Women’. I also can’t go past Whitney’s ‘How Will I Know’!

If you could change one thing about the Australian theatre industry, what would that be?

I would say diversity in casting – the cultural diversity in Broadway shows is amazing, & I feel Australia is behind on this. Personally, I believe if race is an integral theme of the show, then cast appropriately. However, there are a lot of shows where race is not a theme yet are cast as consistently Caucasian. Why? Broadway and West End audiences are accepting and open minded. A recent example is Filipina J Elaine Marcos playing Lily St Regis in the Broadway revival of Annie. We certainly have the talent here in Australia!

What’s the most used app on your phone?

Definitely Instagram! I’m addicted!!

What do you wish you had been told before starting in this industry?

” It’s not personal!” As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized I used to fret a lot about this. Tim Smith also gave me this pearl – “If it’s meant for you, it won’t pass you by”. It makes for an easier ride through the highs and lows that this industry can bring.

What are you addicted to?

I am addicted to N2 Gelato! They keep coming out with new flavors which is dangerous for my discipline!!

What city do you live in and why?

I am living in Melbourne at the moment! The arts scene here is amazing & I love being close to my family. I do miss Sydney’s beaches though, so if we could have a hybrid of Melbourne’s city & Sydney’s beaches that’d be awesome.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I’ll be 30 then! I’ll be performing in musicals, hopefully internationally. I’m chasing my dreams all the way to Broadway. I’ll also hopefully have a lot more stamps on my passport, I’ve definitely got the travel bug. And who knows, I may even meet the love of the my life by then!

In The Heights pushes the boundaries of contemporary music theatre – its score is formed from rap, salsa and hiphop music. The cast also features Stephen Lopez, James Elmer, Bianca Baykara, Laura Marcucci, Francesca Arena, Peter Sette, Gareth Jacobs, Demi Sorono, Timothy Doherty, Samantha Bruzzese, Joshua Martin, Ashleigh Kiven, Nicolas Mena and Elandrah Ermiha. 

In The Heights

Chapel off Chapel from 18 February – 8 March

Erin James

Erin James is AussieTheatre.com's former Editor in Chief and a performer on both stage and screen. Credits include My Fair Lady, South Pacific and The King and I (Opera Australia), Love Never Dies and Cats (Really Useful Group), Blood Brothers (Enda Markey Presents), A Place To Call Home (Foxtel/Channel 7) and the feature film The Little Death (written and directed by Josh Lawson).

Erin James

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