REVIEW: In The Heights (Kings Cross Theatre)

Sam Mackay as Usnavi and the cast of In The Heights. Photo Credit Johan Persson-2Many, including myself, who saw the Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegria Hudes Tony-winning musical about the hopes and dreams of people living in the Washington Heights district of New York, during its short but sensational run at the Southwark Playhouse in 2014 have been hotly anticipating its return.

But could the magic be repeated?

Well, hell yes. The return of In the Heights moved me, made me laugh and got under my skin, in the best possible way, every bit as much as the first time I saw the show.

For this new season it’s moved across London to the Kings Cross Theatre, where audience capacity is around double that of the Playhouse, but still retains the traverse staging without which the show would lose much of its intimacy.

It’s a show that fulfils theatre’s function — and them some. It lifts the spirit and captures the imagination through sheer vibrancy and raw energy. The score, an infectious melange of hip-hop, rap, Latino beats and traditional musical theatre styles, probably shouldn’t work, but they blend superbly into a cohesive whole and provide the impetus for Drew McConie’s outstanding choreography.

The original creative team of director Luke Sheppard, the aforementioned Drew McOnie and musical supervisor Tom Deering remains, as do most of the lead players, all of whom are once again quite wonderful, including Sam Mackay as convenience store owner Usnavi, Eve Polycarpou as matriarchal figure Abuela Claudia, David Bedella as a local cab firm owner, and the glorious force of nature that is Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as gossipy hairdresser Daniela. They’ve really all just picked up where they left off.

Notable among the newcomers are Lily Frazer as Nina, who sings like a dream, and former Sugababe Jade Ewen as Vanessa, who, following her turn in Porgy and Bess at Regent’s Park Theatre last year, here cements her position as a musical theatre performer of some note. There is also fine work from Joe Aaron Reid and Cleve September.

In the Heights is a multi-layered ensemble piece about love and hope, but above all about a community struggling through tough times. And yet out of these peoples’ stories there bursts a life-affirming spirit that leaves you with a smile on your face.

It’s great to have it back.

Reviewed by Tony Peters
Photo: Johan Persson

In The Heights is playing at the Kings Cross Theatre until 3 January 2016. Click here for tickets