"A big contagious hug of a show"
-The Stage-

"This is musical theatre bursting with new life"
-Time Out-

"Electrifying sequences"
-What's On Stage-

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A joy to behold

Critic Rating

16 October 2015, King's Cross Theatre
Guest Reviewer Guest Reviewer
In a theatre designed to capture the English charm of The Railway Children, it is something of a surprise to find a little corner of Latin America throbbing so vividly, but that’s exactly what you get with In The Heights at the King’s Cross Theatre. After a highly successful run at the Southwark Playhouse last year, Luke Sheppard’s production returns with a number of the original cast members and a healthy dose of the contemporary feel and theatrical invention that made it such a joy to behold.

The magic of Quiara Alegría Hudes’ book is in its subtlety. On the face of it, it might look like not a lot happens, we just witness a slice of life from the New York suburb of Washington Heights as they suffer through a 3-day heatwave. But the everyday dynamics of this heavily Hispanic community are beautifully articulated in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s score which blends rap and hip-hop with salsa and straight-up pop to pull the extraordinary from the ordinary lives of these people as they go about the business of living and loving.

Sam Mackay’s Usnavi is the perfect narrator, his rap/spoken numbers placing In The Heights a considerable way away from the world of conventional musical theatre yet sustaining an entirely engaging way of storytelling. And if they’re not hugely dramatic in scope, these stories are still affecting in the intimacy of their scale. Usnavi dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic he’s too young to remember, though his unspoken love for Vanessa gets in the way; Nina made it out of the barrio to attend Stanford but hasn’t found it easy there; and with their keen eye for business, Daniela and Benny have their journeys to trace.

It helps that the casting is pitch-perfect – Lily Frazer’s Nina is wonderfully played as heart and head pull in different directions with US actor Joe Aaron Reid’s Benny tugging the former, ex-Sugababe Jade Ewen as Vanessa (eventually) connects brilliantly with Mackay’s huge likeability as Usnavi, and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt steals every single scene she is in as the spirited Daniela, her feisty attitude a delight to watch and her voice glorious to listen to as Phil Cornwell’s band slips and slides around the funky score.

Throw in some superb choreography from Drew McOnie that sparkles with its modern slant, the cleverly designed set from Takis with the audience on both sides of a traverse stage and the sheer excitement of Miranda’s score, and you have all the ingredients you need to bring a wonderful warmth to any cold autumn evening. Hugely recommended.

Reviewed by Ian Foster

Mark Shenton
In the Heights [...] is a big contagious hug of a show that grabs its characters with palpable affection and love, and stirs them into a giddy, gorgeous portrait of a real community on the cusp of irrevocable change. First staged on Broadway in 2008, where it won the Tony award for best musical and best score, it came to London's Southwark Playhouse last year in a stunningly danced production, which fairly threatened to burst out of the confines of that 200-seater space. Now it has, and been relocated to the purpose-built, Olivier-eligible King's Cross Theatre, shrunk from the 1,000-seat configuration it takes for The Railway Children (with which it will run in rep) into a more intimate 500 seater, and a new kind of thrilling energy is released in the traverse arrangement.

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Bella Todd
In the Heights is really a soap opera. Themes of immigration, heritage and gentrification play second sax to hope, home and young love, and cheesey metaphors abound. There are sunrises and sunsets, a heatwave and a power cut, and fireworks at the interval kiss. But you’re irresistibly caught up in the comings, goings and blazing interactions of the individual characters, through to David Bedella’s conflicted patriarch and his fearsome wife (during her solo, Josie Benson manages to stamp two heels at the same time).

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Michael Coveney
It's a very simple show and I'd be wrong to say it reveals unexpected rewards on a second viewing. If you're in the mood, it's a great night out, the Puerto Rican/Dominican Spanish-speaking community blown apart – personal problems, a power cut, a riot – then soldered together in the ravishing ensemble numbers of carnival and celebration choreographed by Drew McOnie. Luke Sheppard's production has lost some focus since May last year in the Southwark Playhouse but maintains the same terrific energy levels and gains immeasurably in sound quality, the cast all mic'd and somehow in perfect sync with the hot and hidden little band under Tom Deering's musical supervision and Phil Cornwell's direction.

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