BWW Reviews: IN THE HEIGHTS,The Southwark Playhouse, May 15 2014
The Southwark Playhouse's current production of In the Heights is an explosion of talent and emotion. Lin-Manuel Miranda's striking music is complimented by Drew McOnie's stunning choreography and a cast with impressive vocal and physical stamina. This is the piece's first fully staged outing in the UK and is stylistically significant for British musical theatre - how many musicals intertwine rap with modern musical theatre songs and contemporary Latin dancing?
In the Heights is set in New York's Washington Heights and tells of a few locals' stories: high-flying Nina, who made everyone so proud by making it to Stanford; her loving, bickering parents and their taxi business; and Usnavi's (named after a boat his Spanish-speaking parents glimpsed from the beach) and his very sweet - sometimes even romantic - coffee.
Director Luke Sheppard has found a fantastic cast, including Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, who is particularly excellent as Daniela. By turns hilarious and endearing, Hamilton-Barritt has a real gift for transformative, different performances. Eve Polycarpou provides evocative, rich vocals as Abuela Claudia and Damian Buhagiar is extremely believable as Sonny, with impressive dance skills and a sophisticated performance style for someone so young. Christina Modestou floats out some beautiful notes as Nina and Sam Mackay plays Usnavi with a beautiful sense of ease, crafting a delightful, relatable character.
While the plot may be somewhat thin on the ground, for this show, further intricacies are not really necessary. The characters make interesting, believable journeys in the time given time frame and Sheppard's direction really catches the essence of Miranda's score and Quiara Alegria Hudes's book. The sheer skill of MacKay's rapping and the fantastic ensemble's performance of McOnie's visceral, pulsing choreography is stunning and makes for a striking production. Howard Hudson's lighting design also deserves a mention.
All in all, this is an interesting, inspiring show, performed by some of the best musical theatre performers of our time.
In the Heights will run at the Southwark Playhouse until 7th June.