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Ginger Hibiscus | In the Heights Review
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In the Heights

at the Southwark Playhouse

Tony Award winning musical In The Heights boasted sell out performances for the majority of its residency at the Southwark Playhouse. The exemplary choreography courtesy of Drew McOnie, brings Lin-Manuel Miranda’s contemporary score to life with unparalleled energy, showing the West End just how explosive a neoteric musical can be.

In The Heights shines a spotlight on a diverse Manhattan community, where the only real wealth is in experiences and ideas. Showcasing multiculturalism, it introduces us to a spectrum of ages, ethnicities and expectations, where everyone shares one ambition- to get out of The Heights. Through this transient society, we explore cultural identity, question the notion of “home” and belonging, and we begin to appreciate the way attitudes and behaviour are shaped by norms and experiences.

Coffee vendor Usnavi, who demonstrates how the beverage is like a glue holding the community together, is played outstandingly by Sam Mackay. A fantastic talent with flair and charisma, his performance is enthralling and exhilarating, bringing relentless energy and attitude. With his hip-hop saturated style, Usnavi embodies the spirit of this new musical: fresh, contemporary, and effervescent with soul. It could be argued that hip-hop has a bit of an image problem, often perceived as aggressive, sexist and disrespectful, but I was really struck by the likeability of Usnavi, his gentleness with the frail Abuela, and his capacity for love.

Usnavi embodies the spirit of this new musical: fresh, contemporary, and effervescent with soul.

Miranda’s lyrical gymnastics permeate the feisty Latin choreography, as bubbles of pathos rise and burst through layer upon layer of spirited vitality. Nowhere is this more evident than in Vanessa, played by Emma Kingston. Returning home following an unsuccessful first year at Stanford University, she is split between jubilation at being home, and the agony of having to explain that she, the community’s icon of hope and success, hadn’t cut it. Kingston’s performance shows exactly why she has been invited to join the cast of Les Mis√©rables after this run; vocally incredibly strong, and an equally impressive dancer and actress, she absolutely shines where her character had failed to.

The Southwark Playhouse is the perfect venue for the show; the small stage and proximity of the audience means there is no hiding imperfections, so every movement, every word, every facial expression is scrutinised in a way incomparable to larger theatres. And wow did the cast not only stand up to that scrutiny, but excel in it, a dazzling testament to their talent. On top of this, McOnie’s choreography didn’t hold back- it brought the whole room to life in its vibrancy, limbs inches from the faces of audience members, mixing contemporary dance with Latin steps and a twist of hip-hop.

Positively fizzing with sexiness, attitude and vigour, In The Heights is a magical show, as sharp and witty as it is intelligent. The sheer, unrelenting energy radiating from the cast would be enough to have me raving, but the way it breaks the mould of musical theatre so brilliantly is nothing short of inspirational.