This show set in the mainly ethnically populated district of New York City known as Washington Heights picked up Best Musical, Best Score, Best Choreography and Best Orchestrations from its 13 Tony nominations in 2008, plus a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Best Drama.
So, no pressure, then, for the company bringing it to the Southwark Playhouse for its UK premiere. But to say they rise to the task triumphantly hardly covers it. In the Heights is bloody brilliant! From the first beat to the last this is an electrifying production that is by turns funny, moving and totally exhilarating, with enough energy to power the national grid. The score — a mélange of hip hop, latin and more traditional musical theatre styles — works superbly well.
Sam Mackay is outstanding as Usnavi, the bodega-owning narrator of the piece who has lived in the Heights all his life, having been raised by Abuela Claudia (the wonderful Eve Polycarpou) after losing his parents as a child.
As Usnavi shows us, the Heights is a place of struggle, triumph over adversity, unrequited love and unfulfilled dreams — an area battling with change.
In what is largely an ensemble piece, the cast fit their characters like gloves and gel together perfectly. There simply isn’t a weak link among them. But within that ensemble framework there are outstanding solo vocal performances from David Bedella, Josie Benson, Christina Modestou and a heart-wrenching turn from Eve Polycarpou.
If I had to pick out one person though it would be the sassy as hell Victoria Hamilton-Barritt who plays the gossip-obsessed salon owner Daniela — God! This woman even has sexy eyebrows.
It’s all brilliantly staged by director Luke Sheppard, while Drew McOnie’s blistering dance routines remind us, if we needed it, that he’s the most exciting choreographer we have at the moment.
The audience was on its feet hardly before the final chord had faded. A standing ovation has rarely been more deserved.
In The Heights plays at the Southwark Playhouse until 7 June 2014. Click here for tickets