Fans of the musical Hamilton, take note! Lin Manuel Miranda’s In The Heights has finally made it to the big screen, and boy was it worth the wait.
For fans of Miranda like myself, it’s a treat seeing him cameo in the film – although I bet when he starred on Broadway as Usnavi, he’d never have imagined playing the guy selling shaved ice in the film adaption thirteen years later. In The Heights first appeared on stage in 2005, before finally making it to Broadway in 2008. The musical was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and won four, including Best Musical. But In The Heights really comes to life on the big screen.
While the script initially had some big names like Vanessa Hudgens attached, I feel like the relatively unknown cast did a better job than an A-lister ever could at bringing me into the world of Washington Heights. In The Heights tells the stories of immigrant families living in a neighbourhood of New York City. They dream of achieving big things in America, and struggle with the pinch of gentrification and the daily grind of making ends meet. Anthony Ramos stars as lead character Usnavi, a ‘mom-and-pop-shop’ (in New Zealand we’d call it a dairy) owner secretly in love with his neighbour Vanessa (Melissa Barrero). His childhood friend Nina (Leslie Grace) has just returned from her first year at Stanford, and has difficult decisions to make. The group are guided by their honorary Grandma – or Abuela – Claudia (Olga Merediz). There are some fun cameos from faces you might recognise from Brooklyn 99 and Orange Is The New Black too.
The complications of their daily lives are strung together with massive musical numbers. The screen almost explodes with life and colour, so I wasn’t surprised to learn In The Heights is directed by Jon Chu, best known for directing 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians. Miranda’s second musical, Hamilton is famous for its intoxicating combination of powerful, emotional stories and clever, witty rap. The best parts of that are out in force here, too, with the added bonus of a variety of Latin American musical influences, but enough of a pop vibe that you’ll be humming the songs for weeks afterwards.
You might wonder about the relevance of a musical about a Latinx community in New York has for you. But I can promise you, this is a movie with a bit of magic tucked away for everyone. Whether it’s a story of parents who sacrifice for their children, or of determined, hard-working people pressing against the odds. Maybe you’ve just struggled to find where you belong. It doesn’t matter: you’ll leave this movie singing the songs of their stories.