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A CurtainUp London London Review
In the Heights

with 96,000, I'd finally fix housing
give the barrio computers and wireless web browsing
Your kids are living without a good edumacation change the station,
teach them about gentrification, the rent is escalating.
— Sonny
In the Heights
Cast in In the Heights (Photo: Johan Persson)
Luke Sheppard and Southwark Playhouse's exciting production of the Tony award winning musical In the Heights has found a new home at the King's Cross Theatre, a new space, at present being used to share performances with The Railway Children. In the Heights is set in New York's Washington Heights, an area north of Harlem and west of the Bronx. Work shopped from 2005, In the Heights was set in an area dominated by Dominican-Americans which has since be subject to the woes of gentrification like many inner city areas.

Drew McOnie's energetically choreographed ensemble dance is outstanding with the cast dancing with coffee cups that later light up as if full of radio active coffee or cell phones which become torches. The music uses many of the Latin American rhythms as well as street music like hip hop.

You will fall in love with the romantic leads, Nina (Lily Frazer) the beautiful, bright girl who won a place at Stanford University in California and Benny (New Yorker Joe Aaron Reid) who works at the radio controller at Nina's father's taxi firm. Nina's father, Kevin, is played by the great David Bedella whose West End musical credentials speak for themselves. Nina and Benny's duets are out of this world.

Sam Mackay is Usnavi the bodega owner who is love with the beautiful Vanessa (Jade Ewen). A heavily pregnant Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is Daniela the sassy beauty salon owner whose likeable performance provides much of the show's comedy. Eve Polycarpou is Abuela Claudia, the grandmother from Havana, Cuba who personifies "Paciencia Y Fe", Patience and Faith, the show's anthem.

The difficulties and realities are there: Nina's struggle to pay her fees and living costs, holding down three jobs and not finding enough time for study and Kevin's choice between supporting his daughter, selling out or keeping the employment going for his drivers and staff. These are real issues we can identify with.

With the audience staged either side of the set, every seat has a good view and the sound balance has been well refined. The costumes are bright and fun and the set has the shops and cab firm at either end.

For the full plot, background and song list from New York go here. One difference I notice apart from the reprise of Piragua in the Second Act, is the Blackout number closing the First Act - this is the one with torches illuminating the dance.

The cast are immensely vocally and dance talented and a wonderful advertisement for the excellence performers available on London's Off West End. With the same composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton currently wowing New Yorkers, I wonder if an Off West End theatre will be allowed to stage that show.

Be aware that at the moment In the Heights doesn't play Wednesday and Saturdays when The Railway Children takes over. I have visions of the graffiti artist Pete (Antoine Murray-Straughan) from In the Heights decorating the ancient steam train from the play of E Nesbit's book in a futuristic fantasy!

So that makes two American born musicals you have to see in London this year, In the Heights and Kinky Boots!

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In the Heights
Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Book by Quiara Alegria Hudes
Directed by Luke Sheppard

Starring: Joe Aaron Reid, David Bedella, Josie Benson, Vas Constanti, Jade Ewen, Lily Frazer, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, Sam Mackay, Antoine Murray Straughan, Sarah Naudi, Eve Polycarpou, Cleve September
With: Jocasta Almgill, Courtney-Mae Briggs, Michael Cortez, Gabriela Garcia, Reiss Hinds, Alexzandra Sarmiento, Spin, Philippa Stefani
Choreographer: Drew McOnie
Musical Director: Phil Cornwell
Set Designer: Takis
Costume Designer: Gabriella Slade
Lighting: Howard Hudson
Sound: Gareth Owen
Musical Orchestrated and Arranged by: Alex Lachamore and Bill Sherman
Musical Supervisor: Tom Deering
Running time: Two hours 40 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7604
Booking to 16th April 2016
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 13th October 2015 performance at the Kings Cross Theatre, Goods Way, London N1C 4UR (Rail/Tube: King Cross)
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