Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Musical In the Heights Is Adapted for the Screen
By: Ellis Nassour
June 9, 2021: The creator of the theatrical blockbuster Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and the director of the comedy blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu are debuting one of Summer’s biggest and most anticipated films, In the Heights (Warner Bros.) , down from New York’s Upper Upper West Side Washington Heights, “where the streets are made of salsa music and little dreams become big,” to a cinema near you this weekend.
In addition, In the Heights will light up the opening of the Tribecca Film Festival, and will also be available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release.
In the Heights, adapted from the 2018 Tony-winning musical by Lin-Manuel Mirandi, was shot in the very real environs of New York’s Upper Upper West Side’s Washington Heights around the 181st Street subway stop.
The movie, so true to the stage musical, has the scent of cafecito caliente and café con leche hanging in the air along with a kaleidoscope of dreams from this vibrant Latino community.
In the Heights stars Grammy-winner Anthony Ramos (Hamilton, She’s Gotta Have It, In Treatment and upcoming Transformers) ; Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, TV’s Walking Dead, 24), singer/songwriter Leslie Grace, and Melissa Barrera (TV’s Vida).
Usnavi (Ramos, in the role created Off Broadway and on by Miranda), is the likeable, magnetic bodega owner, who jubilantly sings and swings his way through the aisles, surrounded by a vast and colorful array of characters.
Happy on the outside, but inside he’s pining for beautiful beautician Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) and dreaming of winning the lottery so he and his hand-picked abuela [grandmother] (Olga Merdiz, recreating her Tony-nominated role from Broadway) can return to a better life – back in the Dominican Republic, where he can be “somebody” who made it big in Nueva York.
Then, there’s Nina, who returns to the ‘hood after her Freshman year at college with a surprise announcement that turns their lives al revés (upside down).
Among advance praise for the film was “In the Heights fuses Lin-Manuel Miranda’s kinetic music and lyrics with director Jon M. Chu’s lively and authentic eye for storytelling to capture a world very much of its place, but universal in its experience.” Well, OK, then!
Chu (also G.I. Joe; tons of TV) directed from a screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes, based on the musical with Miranda exuberant score and book by Hudes and Miranda.
Also starring are Gregory Diaz IV (Matilda, TV’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Merediz, Tony winner Daphne Rubin-Vega (Rent, Anna of the Tropics), Tony nominee Christopher Jackson (Hamilton; TV’s Bull), Stephanie Beatriz (TV’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Dascha Polanco (TV’s Orange Is the New Black), salsa legend three-time Grammy and six-time Latin Grammy winner Marc Anthony, Emmy winner Jimmy Smits (Broadway: Anna of the Tropics), and the late Doreen Montalvo (Broadway, In the Heights, upcoming Spielberg’s West Side Story).
In the Heights premiered Off Broadway on February 8 2007, after a month of previews, at 37 Arts; and closed that July.
It opened on Broadway on March 9, 2008. Charles Isherwood wrote in the Times: “… the theater has not gone out of the star-making business entirely. If you stroll down to the Richard Rodgers Theatre, where the spirited musical In the Heights opened … you’ll discover a singular new sensation, Lin-Manuel Miranda, commanding the spotlight as if he were born in the wings.
As you watch Mr. Miranda bound jubilantly across the stage, tossing out the rhymed verse currently known as rap like fistfuls of flowers, you might find yourself imagining that this young man is music personified — a sprightly new Harold Hill from the barrio, where this sweet if sentimental musical is set … “
The musical closed in January 2011, after 1,184 performances (and 29 previews). In addition to being nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, In the Heights was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, including Director, Book, Actor, Featured Actor, Featured Actress, Scenic Design, Costumes, Lighting, and Sound. It won four Tonys: Musical, Score, Choreography, and Orchestrations.
Of the show’s 22 tunes, 10 are in the film. These are “Breathe,” No Me Diga,” “It Won’t Be Long Now,” “96,000,” “Piragua,” “When You’re Home,” “Paciencia Y Fe (Patience and Faith),” “Carnival Del Barrio,” “When the Sun Goes Down,” and, of course, the title song. There’s one new tune: “Home All Summer.”
Three tunes from the original will be missed: “Siempre (Always),” “Sunrise,” and the poignant
“Hundreds of Stories,” which was sung by Abuela, Benny, and the company.
Hudes, Scott Sanders, Anthony Bregman, and Mara Jacobs are producers; David Nicksay and Kevin McCormick, executive producers; with Alex Lacamoire (TV’s Fosse/Verdon) and Bill Sherman (Sesame Street) as executive music producers. The choreography is by Christopher Scott, who teamed with Chu on the award-winning The Legion of Extraordinary Dancers.