Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | In The Heights at the Kings Cross Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | In The Heights at the Kings Cross Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | In The Heights at the Kings Cross Theatre
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14 Oct REVIEW: In The Heights at the Kings Cross Theatre

Lphoto02136ast year, when In The Heights opened at the Southwark Playhouse to near unanimous critical acclaim, stars were flying around like they were going out of fashion, praise heaped so highly at the door of the production that it must have been difficult to get into the Playhouse – and that’s without even mentioning the snaking queue of opportunists hoping to nab a return. Sold out for the majority of its run, it was an off-West End show that pulled in far, far more than the usual fringe theatre crowd – and for good reason; for lots of us it was the show of the year, a production whose name on marketing materials still guarantees at least a second glance, and one whose mere mention gets my feet twitching to a Latin beat.

Reading the news that In The Heights was returning – with the same production team working their magic on it – was met with equal parts indescribable excitement and gut-wrenching trepidation, a little bit like finding out that someone you had a frisson with last summer had just moved back into town…so much potential but so much that could go wrong, and with so much emotionally invested. But those of us who’d already grown attached needn’t have worried: In The Heights is back, and it’s everything I remembered.

Showing a West End creaking under the strain of decades-long residencies, jukebox musicals and the theatrical equivalent of clickbait exactly how to do new musicals, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights breaks the mould, bringing the diversity and vibrancy of New York’s Washington Heights to the London stage, as it follows a mishmash community pursuing their own, very different, American dreams. With choreography a marvellous melange of hip hop and contemporary Latin (Drew McOnie), the intensely sexy staging is a perfect visualisation of Miranda’s original songs, which are, themselves, more than one step away from the usual “sound” of musical theatre. From rapping coffee vendor and reliable friend Usnavi, played by a returning – and compelling – Sam Mackay, to the smooth, soulful tones of taxi driver Benny (Joe Aaron Reid),
it’s a musical that’s about as 21st century as it’s possible to be, popping with attitude and bursting with life.

Moving into the Kings Cross Theatre had the potential to be a disaster, the explosive energy that defined the show threatening to dissipate in the larger space, and in being a temporary venue designed and built to accommodate a moving train for The Railway Children, it can feel a lot like a draughty movie set, a far cry from the steamy streets of Washington Heights. But with the heating and volume of the mic’ed up cast set to high, it’s a concern that never even comes close to fruition, the staging more than filling the space, and creating`an irresistible party atmosphere that buzzes with vigour.

UsnaviDespite a shaky entrance, former Sugababe Jade Ewen proves to be a great new casting as the untouchably alluring yet irritatingly aloof love interest to Usnavi, sizzling her way through the show in stark contrast to the equally beautiful yet down-to-Earth Converse-and-jeans presentation of college girl Nina, played by another new casting, Lily Frazer. Pulling out an incredible vocal, Frazer’s performance grows as the show progresses, but nothing and nobody could compare to the sassy attitude of the returning Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, a woman who puts the sexy into baby bump, the killer voice of local salon owner, purveyor of gossip and twerking goddess, Daniela. But a series of strong characters would be nothing without the ensemble of phenomenally talented dancers, who find unimaginable amounts of energy to deliver every night.

Bursting with joyful exuberance, In The Heights is the perfect remedy for dark October evenings, a carnival of colour sizzling with passion so intense you’ll want it to last forever. With one extension already under its belt, the show seems set to be a box office hit – so much so, that I’ve already bought tickets to go again. Why? Because it’s the easiest 5 star decision I’ve made all year.

For tickets and information:
Venue: King Cross Theatre
Images: Johan Personn

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
Okay, fine, but how many stars do you give it? Click here