King’s Cross Theatre until Sunday 3rd January 2016.  Reviewed by Catherine Françoise

5 stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Blown A~Waaaaaay by phenomenal energy and performance excellence !! What a cast, band and creative team! I can’t wait to see it again!

In the Heights won the 2008 Tony Award for best musical and returns to London again after creating a storm last year in its critically acclaimed sell out off West End run at The Southwark Playhouse. Reclaimed disused platforms at the back of Kings Cross Station have been transformed into a brand new purpose built theatre and provide an evocative and unique performing space for this vibrant, youthful blast of energy and creativity. I knew very little about the show (deliberately so) so came to it ‘fresh’ and frankly I was blown away! Tremendous in every possible way! Score, script, direction, band, singing, acting, choreography, dancing, location, costumes. set, effects, staging, atmosphere ~ Beyond BRILLIANT!

Conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda who also wrote the music & lyrics and starred in the original Broadway production, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, In The Heights was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards winning four: Best Musical, Best Original Score Best Choreography (Andy Blankenbuehler), and Best Orchestrations (Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman). It also won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album and was nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and it is clear why ~ Miranda is a fresh, energised new writing voice and has been called the most electrifying force in musical theatre for a decade having followed In The Heights with the hottest ticket on Broadway right now ~ the hip hop musical Hamilton ~ in which we follow the life of USA founding father Alexander Hamilton and cabinet meetings are depicted as epic rap battles.

In London In The Heights is brilliantly directed by Luke Sheppard, with breath-taking choreography once again from Drew McOnie who won the off West End Award for best choreography at Southwark. He has a cast of incredible dancers to showcase his work who give their all in bright vibrant costumes and trainers and then some more! Phenomenal energy, shapes, style, sexy and sassy and truly exhilarating to watch! Although essentially an ensemble show, each character is a strong individual.

Musically In the Heights is a Joyous blast of energy and creative genius giving a disparate yet close community its multicultural voice through a pastiche of hip-hop, salsa, pop, latin and Caribbean influences in catchy tunes and urban lyrics. The band led by Ton Deering are truly superb.

The story focuses on the everyday struggles of immigrant tenement dwellers in a Dominican-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City over three days. Despite hardships, difficulties, conflicts, tensions, poverty and culture clashes, bridges are built, relationships are healed, joy triumphs over sadness and reasons are found to throw a salsa-swinging street party. Some may query a lack of ‘grit’ and seedier aspects of city living, but frankly it’s refreshing to watch a story that all generations can be inspired and uplifted by ~ contemporary Musical Theatre for all generations.

As for the incredibly hard working cast there are no weak links whatsoever and ALL deliver powerhouse performances ~ Sam Mackay plays high energy narrator and rapper Usnavi who as the owner of a cornershop bodega is at the centre of the community and sees what’s happening…“Everybody’s stressed, yes, but they press through the mess / Bounce checks and wonder what’s next.” Usnavi is infatuated with Vanessa, a stunning Jade Ewan who works at the beauty salon and is desperate to move away from her alcoholic mother and other neighbourhood problems but frustrated by a bad credit score. Nina (Lily Frazer) is the first in her family to get to university but is back from Stanford University for the summer having lost her scholarship, dropped out and, even more distressing for her parents (David Bedella and Josie Benson) who own a small taxi and limousine business, has fallen for uneducated Benny (Joe Aaron Reid), a good-natured and ambitious employee of theirs but not from the same cultural background with no prospects (as far as they can see) for their high flying daughter. Ewan, Frazer, Bedella and Benson are tremendous singers and give powerful, poignant performances. Elsewhere, the lease on Daniela’s (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) beauty parlour has run out and the rent has been raised but she’s going with her head held high. Abuela Claudia (Eve Polycarpu) as the older and wise woman in the community sings powerfully of the value of paciencia y fe (patience and faith). Usnavi struggles to live up to the example of Abuela Claudia, eventually recognising the truth of her philosophy through his young employee Sonny (Cleve September) who tells him to embrace the love around him.

Kings Cross Theatre is a fantastic new space in itself and In The Heights is a truly exhilarating experience. The cast and band are simply superb ~ a truly inspirational and powerful performance that stays with you, tapping into all our aspirations for a better world and a brighter future for our children, grandchildren and indeed ourselves. It taps into our better selves and lifts heart, soul and spirit.