Review – In The Heights

In The Heights – Kings Cross Theatre until 8th January 2017

When you get an email saying you are invited to attend a Salsa class, speak to the cast and celebrate In The Heights first birthday, it’s definitely a case of where do I go and what time do you want me?

The evening started with a fun Salsa class taken by dance captain Raffaella Covino and Johnny Bishop. This gave us the opportunity to see just how challenging these dances are but also how infectious the music and dance is.

image

I’m hoping to be able to bring you an interview at a later date but for now onto the main event the show itself.

The evenings may be getting colder, but inside the Kings Cross Theatre, there’s still a heatwave going on. Paul Taylor-Mills (producer) said after the show, that he was told more than once that it would not be a success and wouldn’t last. After a run at Southwark Playhouse it transferred to the then newly created Kings Cross Theatre. Thankfully Mr Taylor-Mills ignored the advice and In The Heights is rapidly becoming a true sensation. It’s obvious to see why, the show is vivacious, colourful and full of energy, with a strong story and a memorable cast of characters. What’s not to love?

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, , Music and Lyrics - Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director - Luke Sheppard, Choreographer - Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, Music and Lyrics – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director – Luke Sheppard, Choreographer – Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

In The Heights tells the story of a close-knit Hispanic community in Washington Heights, New York. Over three days during a summer heatwave, we share the characters’ hopes, fears, loves and losses, as each gets the chance to tell their story. There’s Usnavi, whose bodega forms the heart of the community; his cousin Sonny, who may be young but is wise beyond his years; Abuela Claudia, a grandmother to them all; ambitious Benny, learning Spanish to impress his boss’s daughter and desperate to be accepted; Nina, the first to get out of El Barrio. who goes to college, in the hope to succeed at all her families dreams for her. Each of the characters are beautifully crafted and has their own unique personality.  You might think that with so many stories, some would get lost in the crowd, but somehow that doesn’t happen.

 

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, , Music and Lyrics - Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director - Luke Sheppard, Choreographer - Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson/

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, Music and Lyrics – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director – Luke Sheppard, Choreographer –
Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

This is due largely to the phenomenal cast, who are clearly having a great time, but also give some incredible performances. Again, I could name them all, but let’s pull out just a few highlights. Norma Atallah is wonderful as Abuela Claudia; her frail appearance hides a determined personality and strength of character with a massive voice. Sam Mackay is a perfect choice to play Usnavi – he looks, and tries to act, like a tough guy, but can’t hide his heart of gold; his emotional scenes are genuinely moving. Jocasta Almgill brings a comedy touch as salon owner Daniela, who has a flair for the dramatic and loves nothing more than a good gossip. Arun Blair-Mangat as Benny who is hopelessly in love with Nina, the stunningly captivating Gabriela Garcia and who both made a mesmerising couple. Their duets were blissful to watch. I also loved the astonishing dancing by Johnny Bishop as Graffiti Pete. Damian Buhagiar who was defiant Sonny, trying to keep the community together, whilst ignoring the ever-present gentrification of Washington Heights. All theses characters and more are detailed enough to draw you in to their individual stories and make you love them, this is what makes In The Heights so special.

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, , Music and Lyrics - Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director - Luke Sheppard, Choreographer Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, Music and Lyrics – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director – Luke Sheppard, Choreographer -Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

But the show wouldn’t be what it is without Lin-Manuel Miranda’s irresistible music, which blends a variety of styles to bring El Barrio to life. In many ways, it’s like a 21st century West Side Story. The score’s energetic, with some truly spectacular group numbers, showcasing Drew McOnie’s choreography; sometimes there’s so much going on that it’s hard to know where to look. However Miranda also knows when to take a step back and calm things down. As much as the show is a celebration of a vibrant community, it’s also a story of individuals dealing with change, and – as in life – not everything that happens is good news. Besides, if the energy levels went any higher, they might have completely blown the roof off. Out of the musical numbers I really enjoyed 96,000, whose opening was very different, just think Eminem crossed with the Beastie Boys, and feverish Carnaval Del Barrio.

 

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, , Music and Lyrics - Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director - Luke Sheppard, Choreographer Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

IN THE HEIGHTS by Miranda, Music and Lyrics – Lin-Manuel Miranda, Director – Luke Sheppard, Choreographer -Drew Mconie, Kings Cross Theatre, London, 2016, Credit: Johan Persson

In The Heights is uplifting, funny and moving, a show that reminds us the importance of home and family – which doesn’t necessarily always mean the people you’re related to. Perhaps it’s the proximity of the audience to the stage, but by the end, all you want to do is jump up there and join in the dancing, even more so with the Salsa class we attended prior to that nights special performance.  The layout of the theatre, with the audience arranged on both sides of the stage, could mean that from time to time you may find yourself looking at an actor’s back, and occasionally turning your head like you’re at a tennis match, in order to catch every minutiae of action. However, neither of these points stops this from being a spectacular and infectiously joyous show, that just makes you feel good about life.

I have to say I can’t remember when I last left a performance that had me so exhilarated I wanted to not dash home but to go and find somewhere I could dance the night away. We need more shows like this one – see it while you can, but my secret longing is that we don’t lose it in January that it transfers. This is what we need in the West End and reaffirms what’s great about musical theatre and life.

In The Heights – Kings Cross Theatre until 8th January 2017

★★★★★

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s