In the Heights

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Critics' choice
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© Robert Workman
© Robert Workman

Sam Mackay (Usnavi)

© Robert Workman

Sam Mackay (Usnavi)

© Robert Workman
King's Cross Theatre, King's Cross Saturday October 3 2015 - Sunday November 1 2015

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.

Venue name: King's Cross Theatre
Address: King's Cross Theatre
Cornder of King's Boulevard and Goods Way
King's Cross
Transport: Tube: King's Cross
Price: £22, £18 concs. Runs 2hrs 30mins

Average User Rating

3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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  • 1 star:0
2 people listening
Polly R
2 of 2 found helpful

I enjoyed the production values, but the American accents were often dodgy, and sometimes AWFUL. Some of the actors attempted a New York Latino accent, but within a few minutes, devolved into stereotype. This lack of attention detracted from the show's authenticity. Would it have been so difficult to find more American actors?

sam j
1 of 1 found helpful

It was refreshing to see a well-directed production about a minority community, and the show was vibrant. The actors were very talented. But I have one major problem: the story takes place amidst a summer heat wave near American Independence day (4th July) -- hence the characters wearing short shorts and skimpy clothing. But this central fact got lost in the direction and performance. 

So after the show, many male punters said they liked the show including the "hot Latin women" in their "sexy revealing clothing". And review after review, like this one ("slinky-hipped production") mentions stereotyped adjectives like "sexy", "steaming", "sensual" etc. 

It is a show taking place in summer, amidst a community with no doubt a complex history and culture. But unfortunately, audiences come away satisfying their stereotypes of "sexy Latins."

Jose R

It was a rousing production with wonderful singers and dancers in the cast. But the very wandering American accents made it very obvious that none of the cast (aside from one) was American. 

New York raised Puerto Rican and Dominican Americans from Washington Heights have a range of accents, but NONE of these accents was reflected in this production. They hired a cultural consultant, and an accent coach, but that didn't seem to help. Victoria Hamilton-Barritt's accent was particularly disruptive to hear.

For any New Yorkers or American Latinos watching, hearing the actors speak was painful. Every actor really tried, but their accents wandered all over the place. This made it very very unbeleivable. I know it's a musical and not a documentary. But if you go through the trouble to pay money to a cultural and accent coach, and make the effort to get other cultural nuances right, it would help to make the accents beleivable too. Is that too much to ask?

Gabriel S

I saw this production last week and thought it was one of the most refreshing productions I have seen in a long time. I thought the casting was authentic and the production values were second to none. Every role was cast perfectly and I loved it so much I've just booked to see it again.