Robert Tanitch reviews In the Heights at Southwark Playhouse, London SE1
Last year Southwark Playhouse gave the American musical, Titanic, its London premiere and for many people it was the best musical 0f 2013. It should have gone straight into the West End but there was no theatre free.
Now Southwark has another huge success on its hands. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s exuberant and massively audience-friendly musical, opened off-Broadway in 2007 and went on to win many awards, including best musical.
The book by Quira Alegria Hudes is a sentimental and somewhat idealistic soap opera about the dreams and ambitions of Hispanic immigrants and their children. They all live in the run-down Washington Heights, a Dominican neighbourhood in New York. Can they escape to a better life?
Will Nina (Christina Modestou) be able to go back to university? Will her dad (David Badella) have to sell the family business and how will her mum (Josie Benson) react to that? Will Dad ever be able accept a non-Latin boy (Wayne Robinson) who works for him, as a suitable boy friend for his daughter?
The music is great and the singing is great. The songs have such raw emotional power. The rap lyrics are urban sharp, though not always audible. Luke Sheppard directs and the performance has a terrific confidence and impact throughout.
The cast, visibly enjoying themselves, throw themselves into the street dancing, salsa, mambo, pop and merengue with unflagging energy. What Drew McOnie dynamic choreography achieves on a tiny thrust stage is amazing.
The production is well cast. In addition to the actors already mentioned there is Sam Mackay as the owner of a tiny bodega, Eve Polycorpou as his loving surrogate granny who wins $9,000 on the lottery and Damian Buhagiar, making his professional debut, as his lively teenage hip-hop assistant. The charismatic Victoria Hamilton-Barritt is an absolute knock-out as a witty gossip who runs a hair salon.
In the Heights is on at Southwark Playhouse only until June 7. It richly deserves a West End transfer.