REVIEWS

In The Heights
Southwark Playhouse, 77–85 Newington Causeway, London, SE1 6BD southwarkplayhouse.co.uk
Reviewed by Tim Baros. May 19, 2014

In The Heights
Sam Mackay and The Company of In The Heights.
Photo: Robert Workman
The Heights is the northernmost part of Manhattan, and it's also the location where the new musical production of In The Heights takes place.

Finding itself not in Manhattan (after winning four Tony's in 2008 including Best Musical) but at the Southwark Playhouse near Elephant & Castle, In The Heights is a musical about the various cultures living and surviving in The Heights, which is full of vibrant, lower middle class blacks, Hispanics, Latinos – the kind of cultures that many people say represent the true New York City.

The show, which has a cast of what appears to be a couple dozen, is about Nina (Christina Modestou), a young woman who returns back home to The Heights after a stint at Stamford University in California. She lost her scholarship because of bad grades and has to break the news to her hard–working father Kevin (David Bedella) and mother (Josie Benson). Her father owns a cab company and employs a young black employee Benny (Wayne Robinson). Benny and Nina always had a thing for each other, but her father doesn't want them to date because he feels that Benny is lower class and that she could do better. In the show there's also a corner bodega, which is run by Usnavi (a brilliant Sam Mackay) and his sidekick Sonny (a very good Damian Buhagiar). Across the 'road' there is a beauty salon run by the voluptuous Daniela (Victoria Hamilton–Barritt), who has the best lines in the show, and she delivers them perfectly – Sofia Vergara–style.

In The Heights
Damian Buhagiar as Sonny and Emma Kingston as Vanessa.
Photo: Robert Workman.
Mix these various types of people and what you get is a show full of flavor and spice, and what a taste it is! The cast all are so very talented; they can sing, they can dance, they can move, they smile while running all over the small stage and continue to sing their hearts out. Nina's father Kevin decides to sell his business in order for Nina to be able to go back to school, meanwhile Nina's abuela Claudia (grandmother, played by Eve Polycarpou) tries to make sure the neighborhood stays safe, clean and peaceful. Claudia is lucky enough to win the lottery ($96,000) and decides to give some of the money to Usnavi, who always had a free cup of coffee for her, and with the money he plans to go back to his home country. But there's an intense heatwave, and a blackout (excellently played out), and the theater gets dark, and everyone's lives are thrown into chaos for the night. Nina spends the night with Benny, while Claudia unexpectedly passes away. The next morning Nina's parents have to deal with Claudia's death, and it's a very emotional scene on stage when all the characters gather around to pay their respect. Usnavi realizes that home is right there, In The Heights, so he no longer wants to leave, and Nina plans to go back to school. All of this in the backdrop of The Heights.

The true star of the show is Sam Mackay. He raps, and what a voice he has. He's also an excellent dancer and a great actor or stage, and he really comes into his own halfway during the show. If anyone breaks out of this show, it will be him. Also excellent is Buhagiar, he's tiny but boy can he rap dance. Actually, the whole cast is very good and there is not one false note throughout the show. Director Luke Sheppard and choreographer Drew McOnie have successfully put on a show that was a huge Broadway success and turned it into a successful off off West–End show that is full of energy and talent.

Southwark Playhouse is a bit too small for a show with huge ambitions, and a very large cast. A West End Stage would better suit In The Heights, so the cast would have more room to run around the stage and dance. But then again Southwark (and the surrounding area) has a large Latino and Black population, which is who the show represents. Would mainstream West End audiences embrace this show? I'd bet they would, and no doubt they would be infected with the fever that is In The Heights.

In The Heights ends its run on June 7th, so catch it now.


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