Review: In the Heights @ Kings Cross Theatre ****

A musical with love, lottery and Lin Manuel Miranda.

What more could you want!

Set in Washington Heights, In the Heights tells the stories of its residents and their hopes and dreams, their highs and lows. And this production has far more highs than lows! It’s a giant ball of energy…scratch that: it’s more like a game of skip rope/double dutch. Energetic, electric and exciting: intricate and complex even though those taking part make it look easy. You just want to jump in and join!

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© Johan Persson

Before going, I’d listened to Hamilton aka the best thing (in case you didn’t know from my months of blogging about it). So I was intrigued to see what Miranda’s earlier musical had to offer. And it’s incredible. The sheer energy and life expressed in the lyrics/beat is so invigorating. I laughed, I cried, I danced! Oh and ‘Breathe’ is just beautiful. Avid theatre fans: you will leave singing ‘Piargua’. And ‘Blackout’. And ‘96,000’. Avid Hamilton fans: you will leave ranting on about echoes of his later songs and how he’s evolved as a writer. While singing ‘Piargua’. And ‘Blackout’. And ‘96,000’.

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© Johan Persson

In this ensemble piece, there’s energy and exuberance in abundance too. Sam Mackay makes for a sympathetically nerdy and lovable Usnavi, whose rapping skills are on par with the person who penned it. He truly brings justice to the lines and I can still hear:

I’m runnin to make it home
And home’s what Vanessa’s runnin away from!
I’m running to make it home                                                                                                         And home’s what Vanessa’s runnin away from!

Jade Ewen shines as Vanessa and I can’t wait to see more of her in Aladdin later this year. Her voice is incredible, to the point we thought she was either 1) lip syncing or 2) auto tuned. Surprise: neither. She was that good live, bringing enthusiasm and pure joy to the role. David Bedella makes for a commanding Kevin, though Josie Benson makes for an even more commanding wife in Camila. Seriously, her version of ‘Enough’ had everyone stunned afterwards! Lily Frazer is raw and emotional in her role of Nina, and her performance of ‘Breathe’ is stunning, while Joe Aaron Reid’s Benny is half adorable, half driven. Finally, the choreography will have you wanting to dance and bob along. And please do…the bobbing…not the dancing. Save that for later…

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© Johan Persson

After the show, the theatre’s Between the Lines comes alive and keeps the part going with live music, where theatregoers can dance the night away. While a lot of effort has been put into this space, unfortunately, it goes downhill from there when you enter the theatrical space. Set next to the train station, Kings Cross Theatre is currently being used for In the Heights, in addition to The Railway Children. Or perhaps that should be the other way round: the space is currently being used for The Railway Children, in addition to In the Heights. You get the feeling that In the Heights was just put there for lack of another venue, with half the theatre curtained off and half the seats empty it has a lot to contend against. Which to give the In the Heights team credit, I think it did. They make it work: actors running up and down the gangways, impressive set pieces and use of light coupled with great choreography works well with the 360 style theatre. Maybe the Menier would have suited it better, though this theatre does bring an intimacy which makes you feel part of the neighbourhood.

Verdict: a feel good force of musical theatre, which will have you dancing in your seat and after you leave!

In the Heights is playing until 11th April at the Savoy Theatre. For more information or tickets, visit the official In the Heights website.

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4 thoughts on “Review: In the Heights @ Kings Cross Theatre ****

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