WORTH A LOOK?: ****
WHERE: King’s Cross Theatre
WHEN: 9/10 (matinee), press night 13/10, runs to 3/1
This musical won four Tonys, had its UK premiere at the Southwark Playhouse last year and returns in 2015 with a mix of old cast and new including former Sugababe and Eurovision star Jade Ewen.
Set in the predominantly Dominican-American neighbourhood of Washington Heights in New York, it is the story of Usnavi (played by Sam Mackay, rapping in true Eminem style) who loves Vanessa (Ms Ewen who sings and dances up a storm) and is welcoming a childhood friend Nina home from university.
Lynchpin Usnavi looks out for his abuela Claudia who knows everyone and holds the community together as Nina’s father (the always brilliant David Bedella) ponders what next to do with the taxi business he’s built up from scratch.
It’s ironic perhaps that a musical which stands quite so opposed to the gentrification of an area is being staged in King’s Cross, an area undergoing quite the transformation itself. It’s easy to see why this show won its four Tonys for best musical, score, choreography and orchestrations as it perfectly evokes a barrio where the AC is on but we’re never far from a hot carnival or a brawl.
It’s a contemporary musical which means rapping and street dancing on a joyous scale. A special nod to the comic genius of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt and Joe Aaron Reid for the raunch. Jade Ewen doesn’t put a foot wrong as Vanessa and the layout of the King’s Cross Theatre means no-one’s ever more than 10 rows away from the action. Sam Mackay’s Usnavi holds the whole thing together and there are real tears from the audience at the end when the sense of community is heightened.
The giant cast is fantastic, particularly those playing Nina and her mother, and it’s no wonder that this production’s run has just been extended through to January because, while the UK’s summer might be over, In The Heights remains a ray of blinding sunshine to be celebrated.