By the time I found out about this extraordinary show during its initial London run at Southwark Playhouse, the remaining performances of In The Heights were well and truly sold out. The production team had initially been told by colleagues in the industry that it would never take off, and the casting wouldn’t be up to scratch, and audiences wouldn’t come to see something like this. On paper, I would agree: if anyone had tried to promote a show to me by saying it’s a musical with rap and hip-hop tunes and liberal sprinklings of Spanish almost continually penetrating through the book and the lyrics, I probably would not have expressed much interest. But it’s true that audiences ultimately determine the longevity of a show – this one repeatedly extended to the point where more than a week’s performances had to be cancelled to fit in an intense period of rehearsals for a cast change.
Okay, so the closing notices have now gone up, but for something that wasn’t supposed to have lasted beyond its Southwark run, to have reached a one-year anniversary at the King’s Cross Theatre is an achievement worth marking. The show has become something of a guilty pleasure for me, particularly on Sunday evenings, when their 6:00pm performance finishes so comfortably early there is never a need to rush back. But despite periodic repeated visits, I am no better versed in Spanish than I was a year ago – I still don’t really know what ‘Pan caliente, café con leche!’ really means, for instance. Occasionally a distinctly Spanish expression is translated literally, at least partly for comic effect: I suspect ‘watermelon of my heart’, though quite an absurd analogy in English, means something warm and loving between the lines, rather like the French ‘mon petit chou’, an affectionate phrase that literally translates ‘my little cabbage’.
I was very sorry to have missed David Bedella as Kevin Rosario this time around; his alternate, Vas Constanti, stamps his own authority on the role. Juliet Gough is convincing as Kevin’s wife, Camila, and provides a stunning rendering of ‘Enough’ that rightly brought the house down. It is, as always, the most exhilarating numbers that get the wildest applause, ’96,000’ in Act One (think ‘If I Were A Rich Man’ from Fiddler on the Roof or ‘Money To Burn’ from Half A Sixpence) and ‘Carnaval Del Barrio’ in Act Two. What is more noticeable having seen it all before is that the softer numbers are delivered with as much emotional intensity. Of particular note is ‘Breathe’, which sees Gabriela Garcia’s Nina establish a rapport with the audience very early on in proceedings. That rapport is never broken thanks to her stand-out performance.
I am often asked what show I would recommend, and invariably I will more often than not suggest In The Heights as it just seems to connect with a lot of people so well. More than once I have come across people who felt the show ‘spoke’ to them, whether it is someone who has also left their home country to settle elsewhere out of economic and/or political necessity, or someone with ambition who is simply looking to be the best person they can be.
These days one only has to mention the name Drew McOnie and those with an interest in choreography will want to see a show if he is listed as choreographer. This production showcases that sheer talent superbly, ensuring the stage only feels crowded with the full company on stage singing and dancing away when it is meant to for the purposes of the narrative. I remain unsure where to look at times as there is so much going on at once, and one can only sit back and enjoy it all, taking in as much as possible.
I have no idea whether the Dominican and Puerto Rican accents are as accurate as they could be. A lot of the characters are, hip-hop, Spanish and salsa aside, broadly recognisable as the sort of character to be found in a musical, adding to the show’s appeal. Sam Mackay as Usnavi continues to lead this production’s company with an infectious passion, deftly handling the sometimes breakneck-paced lyrics from Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose songs have an ability to be rapider and wordier than even those of Stephen Sondheim.
Still one of the hottest tickets in town, and still blazing with an energy that continues to lift the spirits of the audience night after night.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Olivier and Tony Award-winning Broadway musical “IN THE HEIGHTS”- by Lin Manuel Miranda the creator of ‘Hamilton’ – has extended its London run at the King’s Cross Theatre for the third and final time and is now booking until Sunday 8th January 2017.
Joining the cast from Friday 16th September are Arun Blair-Mangat as ‘Benny’ (“Kinky Boots”); Juliet Gough as ‘Camilla’ (“Matilda”) and Stephanie Rojas as ‘Carla’ (“Wonder.land”). Sarah Naudi, who has been with the show since it opened at the Southwark Playhouse in 2014, will play the role of ‘Vanessa’ and Damian Buhagiar returns to the production as ‘Sonny’, having originated the role in 2014. Jocasta Almgill will play the role of ‘Daniela’ until 2nd October with Aimie Atkinson playing the role from 3rd October, 2016.
Continuing their roles are: Sam Mackay as ‘Usnavi’ (“Wonder.land”); Gabriela Garcia as ‘Nina’ (“Ghost The Musical”); David Bedella as ‘Kevin’ (“Jerry Springer – The Opera”); Norma Attallah as ‘Abuela’ (“The Sound of Music – Live”); Johnny Bishop as ‘Graffiti Pete’ (“The Lion King”) and Vas Constanti as ‘Piragua Guy’ (“Flashdance”). They are joined by: Reiss Hinds; Chritopher Tendai; Michael Cortez; Shanice Burton; Raffaella Covino; Genesis Lynea; Alex Thomas and Tara Young. Further casting to be announced shortly.
“IN THE HEIGHTS” won three Olivier Awards at the 2016 ceremony in April – Outstanding Achievement in Music, Best Choreographer and Best Supporting Actor for David Bedella. “IN THE HEIGHTS” is an uplifting and exhilarating journey into Washington Heights, one of Manhattan’s most vibrant communities – a place where the coffee is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music.
It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggle can be deciding which traditions to take with you, and which ones to leave behind. With a gripping story and unforgettable Latin and hip-hop infused score, “IN THE HEIGHTS” is a ground-breaking contemporary musical about what it takes to make a living, what it costs to have a dream, and what it means to be home.
IN THE HEIGHTS
King’s Cross Theatre
Good’s Way (by King’s Boulevard), London, N1C 4UR
Booking Until: 8th January 2017