If you love musicals and New York City, you need to see In the Heights. Even if you aren’t theater-obsessed, you still need to see In the Heights.
In the Heights is based on the award-winning Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the mastermind behind the cultural phenomenon Hamilton. The movie was originally scheduled to be released last year, but due to the pandemic, its new release date is June 11. Trust me, it is well worth the wait.
I was fortunate enough to see the Broadway musical when Corbin Bleu starred as the lead in early 2010. I do not remember much from the performance given I was nine years old, so I jumped on the opportunity to see a free screening through Northwestern University. There might be more screenings in the coming weeks, so definitely keep your eyes out!
The story takes place in Washington Heights, a working-class neighborhood in upper Manhattan. Often referred to as El Barrio, Washington Heights residents are primarily Hispanic and Latino. The main characters are each struggling to balance pursuing their dreams and maintaining a connection to their families and communities. Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos, runs the bodega but wants to return to his home in the Dominican Republic and refurbish his father’s tavern. Vanessa, played by Melissa Barrera, works at the local salon but wants to move downtown and become a fashion designer. Benny, played by Corey Hawkins, is a taxi dispatcher but wants to become a businessman. Nina, played by Leslie Grace, is torn between staying at Stanford University and being with her community in Washington Heights.
There are, of course, other characters, each who play a different role in the community and has a different dream. Their stories are played out through song and dance like a typical musical, but the movie allows for much more extravagance and even the occasional special effect. The music style is a blend of hip-hop and rap, which probably is not a surprise if you’re a fan of Miranda. The choreography and cinematography are impeccable, with big ensemble numbers that will mesmerize you. And the acting makes you feel like the actors are a part of a real community and family. There is also the occasional Hamilton easter egg which I enjoyed.
As someone who is from New York City, it was refreshing to see the bustling city filled with people, something that hasn’t happened since the pandemic. In the Heights also has one of the most diverse casts I’ve seen recently, with all of the leads being people of color and ensemble members featuring all ages, races, genders and sexualities. The movie also brings to light many social issues such as the fight for DREAMers and undocumented people as well as the microaggressions people of color, specifically Latinx people, face at primarily white institutions.
Overall, the movie was just incredible. It is funny, inspiring and heart-wrenching all at once. A warning: pretty much everyone was crying at one point or another during the movie. It is rare that we get a film so powerful, and I hope I’ve convinced you to get your tickets.