Review: In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre

The King’s Cross theatre is a special place, tucked away behind one of London’s most bustling international transport hubs.

But the theatre, which has since become synonymous with its production of The Railway Children, for which the venue was purpose-built, is also currently home to Lin Manuel Miranda’s incredible In The Heights – a stunning musical set to the soundtrack of hip hop, rap and R&B songs.

Miranda’s writing style, which has just won him the Pulitzer Prize for Drama 2016 for employing a similar technique with his current Broadway smash Hamilton, is completely en pointe here too; and while many probably don’t consider these genres of music to be the regular style of musical theatre storytelling, they work perfectly.

In The Heights spins the tale of a group of residents in the Manhattan neighbourhood of Washington Heights, whose lives are interwoven by the jobs they do, the places they frequent and the relationships they’ve formed. Usnavi, a flat-broke bodega owner, is the show’s narrator and main protagonist; he dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic, the place where he was born but left when he was too young to remember.

Other characters include Daniela, who owns the local salon; Vanessa, who works there, and with whom Usnavi is in love with; Kevin and Camila, who own the local taxi-cab firm; Benny, who works dispatch; and “Abuela” Claudia, the matriarch of the show, who practically raised Usnavi and his cousin, Sonny.

Things begin to change when Nina, Kevin and Camila’s daughter and a childhood friend of Usnavi’s, returns from Stanford University to tell her parents she has dropped out; on the same day, Usnavi sells a winning lottery ticket from his bodega: with a cash prize of $96,000.

Credit - Johan Persson.

Photo: Johan Persson.

In The Heights is a true ensemble piece, bolstered by Miranda’s unique narrative style. Cast members in the background, who in any other show might just form part of the scenery, drive the story forward here, sitting around the edge of the stage throughout to watch the drama unfold – just like the audience on either side of the stage – and act like some kind of a chorus from a Greek tragedy. Those with more to do, notably Benny, Nina, Vanessa and Usnavi, truly deliver standout performances, really making you care about their experiences and what is happening to them.

This production of In The Heights is made even more special by its intimate setting at the King’s Cross Theatre. Much like with The Railway Children, the audience is split in two, sitting on opposite “platforms” on either side of the stage, with the action taking place in the middle. As such, the cast have to play to both sides throughout, a consideration which has carefully been woven into the choreography, lighting and staging of the show.

Of course, the fan inside wants to scream and shout that In The Heights is more deserving of a larger audience, such is its greatness, and that it should be playing to packed-out audiences in the middle of the West End, and it should; but it would also be a misnomer to not say that the charming setting here actually adds to the intensity of the piece, particularly during act one closer Blackout and the gorgeous, praising and haunting number, Alabanza.

Having won three Olivier Awards at this year’s ceremony, In The Heights is fast becoming one of the hottest tickets in the town.

With the show now having extended its booking period until October 2016, you’d be a fool to miss it – so don’t! Get your tickets here right now.