Review - In The Heights

Lin-Manuel Miranda really is the man of the moment. His hugely hyped new musical Hamilton is currently making waves on Broadway, while over here in London his Tony Award winning musical In The Heights (music and lyrics by Lin Manual-Miranda, book by Quiara Alegría Hudes), last seen at the Southwalk playhouse in 2014 has just been revived at the Kings Cross Theatre.
Having missed out on the show during its initial run, and subsequently hearing it praised nonstop I was desperate to experience it for myself, and so as soon as tickets went on sale in September I grabbed one, and I've been looking forward to it ever since.

Incredibly, In The Heights not only lived up to, but in my opinion exceed the hype surrounding it. Reminiscent of Rent in several ways but at the same time markedly different, the show is largely an ensemble piece, following the lives of the inhabitants of Washington Heights during a summer heatwave. There are enough ups and downs, loves and losses to keep you engaged throughout the show, and although there are quite a few characters, each one is fleshed out and likable enough that you’ll have no trouble following every story line. Especially thanks to Luke Sheppard's tight direction. 

From the moment the first actor entered the stage I was captivated. The connection between actors and audience was unlike any I’ve experienced before. I felt as if I was a part of the action onstage, and by the end of the show it was as if I knew each of the characters personally. This was, in no small way, due to the mesmerising and endearing performance of Sam Mackay as the show’s main protagonist Usnavi. He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the moment he opened his mouth, and he sang and rapped with a charismatic flair which was a joy to watch.  Similarly, Lily Frazer as Stanford student Nina was sensational, with enviable costumes (by Gabriella Slade) and an even more enviable voice! As her parents Kevin and Camilla, David Badella and Josie Benson were a vocal team to be reckoned with, while Victoria Hamilton-Barritt stole almost every scene she was in as gossipy salon owner Daniela! The energy and talent displayed by every single cast member was just entrancing!

I was also wowed by the set design, and way the space in general was transformed. Having seen The Railway Children which is still running in rep with In The Heights at the moment, the two shows set ups couldn’t be more different. Before I even entered the theatre I was met with the sounds of atmospheric music playing, evoking thoughts of NYC, while graffiti murals and posters helped to set the scene brilliantly. Upon entering the theatre (a significantly smaller seating area than that used on The railway Children) I was impressed with how detailed and vibrant the set design was, and particularly enjoyed the use of two large movable ladders which were used to create height or signify a change in location, and were even incorporated into the shows choreography at several points.

On the subject of choreography, Drew McOnie’s movement and dance pieces were a joy to watch, adding flair to the show's already buzzing atmosphere. But it was the music that I found particularly stunning. Prior to seeing the show I was cautious about how much I’d enjoy the hiphop and rap influences of the music, as normally this kind of music would not appeal to me. However, in the case of the music of In The Heights, I was stunned. It was brilliantly catchy and so clever, the cast’s enthusiasm was infectious, and I was frequently left grinning. In fact, the title song has been stuck in my head ever since! But there were also genuinely haunting, gut wrenching moments will leave you breathless, and perhaps a little teary!

If you missed this show at the Southwalk Playhouse like I did, do not hesitate to get yourself a ticket now. The intelligent lyrics, hummable tunes, heart stopping choreography and energetic cast were faultless, and to miss out on such an exciting production is a definitely no-no! Do yourself a favour and get yourself down to the Kings Cross Theatre as soon as possible, because I have a feeling the infectious buzz surrounding the show will make In The Heights one of THE must-see productions of this autumn!