Before Hamilton became a Broadway mega hit and household name, Lin-Manuel Miranda began his composition career with his Tony Award–winning musical In the Heights, which premiered on Broadway Feb 14, 2008.
Washington Heights, a small enclave of one of the largest cities in the world, is the beacon of light and hope and an example of true community in the new movie musical adaptation In the Heights.
Directed by Jon M Chu (Crazy Rich Asians), this musical motion picture is a feast for the eyes through the use of creative cinematography and is expertly directed with modesty and care.
In the Heights presents a film with no overtly sexualized scenes or violence, making the movie very refreshing for all age groups .
Anthony Ramos, previously known for starring both as John Laurens and Phillip Hamilton in the musical Hamilton, takes on the role of the story’s narrator, Usnavi.
The story finds him running the local bodega, trying to make ends meet while pining for Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), who has her own aspirations to escape Washington Heights and become a fashion designer.
Nina (Leslie Grace) comes home from her semester of studying at Stanford University and is welcomed as the neighborhood’s brightest star. Despite the support she receives from friends and family, she still feels uncertain about whether she belongs at home in Washington Heights or back at Stanford.
Benny (Corey Hawkins), who still has feeling for his childhood love Nina, works for her father (Jimmy Smits), who wants the best for Nina but does not understand her conflict about returning to college.
Ramos is a stand out and plays Usnavi with the quirks and the care Miranda intended, while also making the character his own.
Another standout performance in the movie is delivered by Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia who originated the role on Broadway. Merediz brings this highly symbolic character backbone and empathy. Abuela is the thread of the Rosario family, caring for not just her family but acting as the heart and soul of the community. Her legacy becomes a metaphor of family and love and is a central plot point to the musical.
Salon owner Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega) and two of her stylists Carla (Stephanie Beatriz) and Cuca (Dascha Polanco) are most notable for their plans of moving back to the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, have dreams of expanding their salon business. They bring an electric energy to their supporting roles and their positivity results in several fun loving numbers.
The ensemble number “96,000”, brought back a Busby Berklee style vibe, choreographed in a local pool with the use of bright imagery and colors. Choreographer Christopher Scoot combines classical ballet with hip hop to truly create a multidimensional dance piece to this blockbuster number.
One aspect of the movie that was lacking, however, took away from the overall original story line of the musical.
Nina’s ballad “ Everything I Know”, a ballad reminiscing about her relationship with Abuela Claudia was cut from the film.
This song is one of the few ballads in the show, which speaks to the overall theme of the importance of family, and it is also a main turning point for Nina’s character. In the original production, at the end of this number she is ultimately able to make a decision that will direct the course of her life and define the substance of her character.
The elimination of this song effects the way the audience views the Rosario family dynamic. The song was used as a tool to sensitively describe Abuela’s positive influence on Nina’s future.
Overall, this movie represented the original stage performance of this production in a positive manner.
The style of the film wonderfully combined both new and old ways of movie making and storytelling.
The film was well cast, including Broadway veterans, as well as giving independent singers and actors a chance to be in the spotlight.
The intimate small block community aspect of the film is what makes the movie realistic and refreshing to watch. Audiences will be transported to a tight knit community with love of family, friends, and home — something all audiences will appreciate and may need to see right now.
The continuous backdrop of the George Washington Bridge is a powerful metaphor throughout the movie. It represents our bridge to welcoming people from all over the world who, through hard work, perseverance, and support from family and community, learn to call America their home.
In the Heights is in Theatres June 10, and streaming on HBO Max.
Interesting that this glowing review conveniently leaves out the criticism of colorism that plagues this movie, even Lin-Manuel himself has admitted to it. Odd that Greylock Glass would assign someone to do this review who clearly, judging by the profile picture, does not understand colorism or how it affects people as she is “white passing”. Also odd that Greylock Glass would overlook this with all of the activism they do around town.
Thank you Concerned Citizen for your comment. I acknowledge your issue with the lack of colorism in this movie. Miranda has historically in the past decade of his work strive to cast actors of all races and ethnicities. Hamilton, the currently most popular musical on Broadway was cast with a diverse group of actors. When I review movie musicals I make it a point to review them on the basis of the true definition of a musical. This includes critically looking at vocal performance, dance, and acting.
Much criticism has been levied against In the Heights for this reason. As you point out, Concerned Citizen, Miranda himself has acknowledged that the cast is likely fairer of skin than would be the neighborhood’s residents, in aggregate. If we recall that the film, “West Side Story” cast Natalie Wood as Maria, the Puerto Rican heroine, we’d be hard-pressed to deny that ITH represents an immense improvement.
Isabel was aware of the charges of colorism when she reviewed the film, and chose to focus on traditional characteristics of musical theatre. She didn’t criticize the representation of the LGBTQ+ community, nor did she comment on the scant portrayals of religion in the film either. Miranda didn’t set out to devote time to every social injustice that could have received a treatment, (can you imagine if he’d tried?) and we didn’t either.
I am grateful to you for your observations and comments, CC — keep them coming. We’ll always make time, between our moments of activism, to read and reflect on the opinions of our critics.