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Review: In The Heights

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Rating:

Tucked behind King’s Cross Station is a rather unassuming, easily passable building. It does not dominate the area where it sits like many London theatres, but it exists quite happily as the King’s Cross Theatre, home to the current production of In The Heights.

In The Heights is a musical that subverts the genre and does so overwhelmingly successfully. Following the lives of a group of young people attempting to survive and thrive around a corner shop in upper Manhattan, a student could easily see themselves as part of this story.

In The Heights is not a sickeningly cheerful musical, but it is not as emotionally exaggerated as other musicals can be.

A seamless blend of rap and more classical musical styles, along with refreshing interjections of humour, romance and current political concerns make this musical a challenge to the genre, and will also be familiar fare for anyone who has listened to Hamilton, the recent Broadway sensation. This familiarity exists because the two musicals share a composer, writer, lyricist, and original Broadway lead in Lin Manuel-Miranda. The two musicals are incomparable, yet equally brilliant, and In The Heights deserves equal praise.

Critically acclaimed with with three Olivier awards, this production does not leave much to be desired. This production is technically perfect, but the key compliment is on how well performed and structured the production is. In terms of emotional depth, Michael Cortez’s portrayal of the lead Usnavi was both hilarious and touching.

This production of In the Heights challenges every presumption about successful musical theatre.

In The Heights is not a sickeningly cheerful musical, but it is not as emotionally exaggerated as other musicals can be. Indeed, it is realistic in its emotional intensity, and that is what makes it an enjoyable show. Cortez plays the lead with humour and tact – his passion for the part is clear.

A special mention must be made of the portrayal of Kevin, as played by David Bedella. Bedella gave an understated, yet heart-wrenching performance that moved many members of the audience (including yours truly) to tears. Bedella recently won an Olivier award for his part in In The Heights and after experiencing his performance, it is clear to see how well-deserved his accolade was.

For a musical that takes place exclusively in one block of uptown New York, In The Heights has a surprisingly universal appeal.

This production of In the Heights challenges every presumption about successful musical theatre. The stage is not large, the props are infrequent and non obtrusive, and the cast is relatively small.  The traverse stage of the King’s Cross Theatre gives a particular intimacy to the production, sitting in the front row leaves the actors practically in your laps. The staging is imaginative and rather fun, though the use of false mobile phones to light the stage during a blackout scene was slightly reminiscent of midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

However, for a musical that takes place exclusively in one block of uptown New York, In The Heights has a surprisingly universal appeal. We can all empathise with the struggles of the musical: the desire to escape or return to the places we come from, the battle of economic security vs. dreams, political satire, and the problems faced with love and loss. When these common problems are set to music, brilliant choreography and staging, it’s impossible to not enjoy this show.

It’s impossible to not enjoy this show.

With the continuing surge of theatre ticket prices in London, young person tickets for £15 are a refreshing necessity; how many other Olivier winning shows enable you to buy front row seats for the price of a Nando’s? In the Heights ought to be one of the hottest tickets in London, but its current lack of notoriety simply means we can see it multiple times, because after you’ve seen it once, you’ll want to see it again.

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