This show transfers to the King's Cross Theatre from October 3. This review is of the show's May 2014 run.
Winning four Tony Awards when it opened on Broadway in 2008, this musical set in New York’s titular Latin American quarter makes a spectacular London debut at Southwark Playhouse in Luke Sheppard’s soulful, slinky-hipped production.
Propelled by excellent singing and Drew McOnie’s breathlessly sexy choreography, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music and lyrics are a pulsating mix of Latino beats, rap and Spanish – it's as far from Lloyd Webber as is refreshingly possible. Everything's woven together so seamlessly you only realise how intricately arranged everything is when the first half drifts a little towards the end.
Anchored by a superb Sam MacKay as Usnavi – a bodega-owning son of Dominican Republic immigrants, with women and money woes – this is a big-hearted show about identity, neighbourhood and belonging. But its head isn’t in the clouds: scriptwriter Quiara Alegria Hudes’s characters stick to the right side of stereotype as they struggle with rising real estate prices, blackouts and encroaching hipsters.
Christina Modestou is affecting as university dropout Nina, left wondering who she is, while Eve Polycarpou brings a wistful warmth to Abuela Claudia, the glue of Washington Heights and its link to a past far beyond Manhattan. Meanwhile, Victoria Hamilton-Barritt hogs the laughs as gossipy, no-shit salon-owner Daniela.
From Howard Hudson’s inventive, atmospheric lighting (including, at one point, lit-up coffee cups) to the swagger of the live band, this production has the juiciness of a telenovela and a rippling salsa swing. The brilliant cast blaze across the stage as a vivid community of people who have turned an economic ghetto into a home.