“Well you must take the A Train
Even farther than Harlem
To northern Manhattan and
Get off at 181st, and
take the escalator
I hope you’re writing this
Down, I’m gonna test ya later”
Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stock could not be higher with his new show Hamilton taking Broadway by storm so it’s an apposite time for this belated transfer of his earlier musical In The Heights, with book written by Quiara Alegría Hudes. Undoubtedly one of the best shows of 2014, Luke Sheppard’s production blew the roof off the Southwark Playhouse and is now poised to do the same at the King’s Cross Theatre with many of the original cast and creatives returning to give us a slice of life from the New York Hispanic community of Washington Heights.
Nothing has been lost in the move, the whole production just sparks with vivid life. From takis’ effective sidewalk design (now with added movable fire escape) to the pure joy of Drew McOnie’s choreography, the reconfigured staging releases a newer, raw energy that blooms into the space. And with Gabriella Slade’s day-glo bright costumes, the vibrant splashes of Howard Hudson’s lighting and the crispness of Gareth Owen’s sound design, complemented well by Phil Cornwell’s musical direction, Sheppard keeps the show firing excitingly at full throttle throughout.
And this sense of thrill carries through the cast, whose fierce commitment truly transports you into this world. Whether Josie Benson’s no-nonsense Camila laying into stubborn family members, Cleve September’s deeply compassionate but would-be street Sonny, the delightful daffiness of Sarah Naudi’s Carla or Victoria Hamilton-Barritt’s rip-roaring Daniela (the phrase ‘ay mami’ definitely comes to mind ;-)), these are supporting characters that live long in the mind, resonating with real conviction and effectively peopling the neighbourhood.
So it is easy to see why there’s such a strong sense of push and pull from the leads, dealing with the simultaneous claustrophobia and comfort of a place where everyone knows your name and the complexity of deciding where home is for first- and second-generation immigrants. Sam Mackay’s superb Usnavi and Lily Frazer’s measured Nina exemplify this conflict perfectly, with Jade Ewen and US actor Joe Aaron Reid as their respective love interests also impressing. Mackay’s lyrical dexterity really is a thing to behold though.
I loved In The Heights last time and I loved it again now, you really should book.