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In the Heights (King's Cross Theatre)

Luke Sheppard's production makes a triumphant transfer

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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This joyous Latino, rapping, hip-hop musical from the composer/lyricist of the current Broadway hit Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has blazed back to life in the new temporary King's Cross Theatre, playing in rep with The Railway Children: you enter the little corner of Washington Heights along the railway track, an audience of about six hundred ranged on either side, traverse-style, of the oblong raised stage.

It's a very simple show and I'd be wrong to say it reveals unexpected rewards on a second viewing. If you're in the mood, it's a great night out, the Puerto Rican/Dominican Spanish-speaking community blown apart – personal problems, a power cut, a riot – then soldered together in the ravishing ensemble numbers of carnival and celebration choreographed by Drew McOnie.

Luke Sheppard's production has lost some focus since May last year in the Southwark Playhouse but maintains the same terrific energy levels and gains immeasurably in sound quality, the cast all mic'd and somehow in perfect sync with the hot and hidden little band under Tom Deering's musical supervision and Phil Cornwell's direction.

By all accounts Hamilton is ground-breaking (I'll see it in a couple of months' time) but In the Heights, with a book by Quiara Alegría Hudes, brash on the outside, soft in the centre, is an unapologetic amalgam of West Side Story, Rent and Kurt Weill and Langston Hughes's Street Scene.

The cab business manager (David Bedella) is at odds with his wife (a triumphant Josie Benson) over the future of both the family firm and their daughter Nina (delightful Lily Frazer), who's walked out of her course at Stanford and fallen for her dad's employee, Benny (Joe Aaron Reid, fully living up to his extensive musical theatre credits).

The girls in the salon, led by Victoria Hamilton-Barritt's outrageous, and heavily pregnant, Daniela, lipstick as red as her dress, are ready for action, while the emcee character, Sam Mackay's compelling and technically brilliant Usnavi – this irrepressible rapper who owns a bodega/grocery was played originally by Miranda himself – is troubled on two fronts: by the street artist Graffiti Pete (Antoine Murray-Straughan) and an elderly neighbour Claudia (Eve Polycarpou) who comes up trumps on the lottery.

How the plot threads are untangled reeks of workshop rather than dynamic theatricality, but there are some electrifying sequences to compensate for dips in the dialogue, and beautiful set pieces under the night sky, and at a neighbourhood funeral; great musical overlaps, too, as when Jade Ewen's feisty Vanessa holds long, high lyrical lines during a lottery rap and dance number, or when the hydrants come back on to wash over the ecstatic cast as Usnavi decides whether to sell up or stay and the finale gathers to a head.

In the Heights runs at King's Cross Theatre until 3 January 2016.

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