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In the Heights Movie: What Can We Expect?

Before Hamilton hit the stage, Lin Manuel Miranda had already established himself as a notable actor, songwriter, and playwright with his first musical In the Heights, which debuted on Broadway in 2008. In the Heights was a tremendous success, nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and winning four of them, including Best Musical, and winning a Grammy for Best Musical Show Album. The acclaimed musical takes place in a span of three days and follows the lives and dreams of multiple characters living in Washington Heights, a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood in New York City.

In 2016, Warner Bros. Pictures officially announced that they were adapting In the Heights to the screen and, after being delayed one year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the highly anticipated film is now set to premiere on June 11, 2021, in theaters and HBO Max. Warner Bros. recently released the “Washington Heights” and “Powerful” trailers and fans are more excited than ever to watch the new film. Below you will find some of the answers to the overall question: “what can we expect from the In the Heights movie?”

A Lot of Color and Imagination

If there is one thing we know for sure after watching the trailers, it’s that this movie is going to look beautiful. Shots of “Carnaval del Barrio,” a scene where the characters celebrate and decorate the streets with flags of Latin-American countries, is one of many where we can appreciate the wardrobe and set teeming with vibrant colors. More than that, the film seems to include elements that disconnect the film from reality, such as Benny and Nina dancing on the side of the building and giant rolls of fabric falling from the sky as Vanessa sings. These imaginative and magical scenes suit the movie perfectly, as so much of the story is based on the dreams and hopes of the characters in it.

A Diverse and Notable Cast

True to the neighborhood it sets out to portray, the film adaptation of In the Heights will include a predominantly Hispanic cast. After previously working with Miranda in the stage musicals Hamilton and 21 Chump Street, Puerto Rican- American actor Anthony Ramos plays the titular role of Usnavi, a bodega owner in Washington Heights. A few members of the stage production of In the Heights have also rejoined the cast of the movie. Although he originally played Usnavi in the Broadway production, Lin Manuel Miranda will return as “el Piragüero” in the film and, to many fans’ excitement, the “Powerful” trailer reveals that Christopher Jackson, who played Benny in the original stage production and George Washington in Hamilton, will play Mister Softee in the movie as well. Olga Merediz, Cuban-American actress, will be reprising her role as Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of Washington Heights, who helped raise many of the neighborhood’s inhabitants. Other notable actors in the film’s cast include Leslie Grace, Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Stephanie Beatriz, and singer Marc Anthony, who Miranda revealed would play a “brief but pivotal role” in the film.

Breathtaking Musical Numbers

In the Heights has no shortage of group musical numbers and, by the look of the trailers, the movie has certainly taken advantage of that. We can see various scenes where dozens of people are dancing in the streets during the songs “In the Heights” and “Carnaval del Barrio,” and the trailer includes shots of a big choreographed number by a pool, implied to take place during the song “96,000.”  These scenes, that are sure to be showstoppers, will be complemented by other, perhaps smaller, but no less breathtaking numbers such as “The Club” and “When You’re Home.” Not to mention the song “Alabanza,” where the trailer shows a large crowd with lit candles gathered in the streets and where the audience is sure to shed a tear.

Gentrification and the Involvement of Current Racial Issues

In the Heights has always been a story about the importance of community and identity, and it seems that the movie will further delve into the issues that are affecting Hispanic neighborhoods in America today. The inhabitants and businesses of some of these communities, including Washington Heights, have been struggling to remain afloat and pay the rapidly increasing rent in the past years, as more and more high-class citizens move into and change these neighborhoods with the goal of attracting chain business and improving housing. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Lin Manuel Miranda explained how this issue will play out in the film: "Gentrification is tough to dramatize because it's many forces at work at once. So we really kind of responded with the complexities that I think it deserves." Moreover, the movie musical will tackle the difficult circumstances faced by immigrants, as seen in various shots of Abuela Claudia’s song “Paciencia y Fe,” and the difficulty of understanding your identity and finding your true home. 

A Focus on Achieving Your Dreams

Every character in In the Heights has dreams that influence the events that take place during the show. The movie seems to keep this aspect of the musical, further expanding on the goals of each character and showcasing the sacrifices they make to accomplish them. In the stage musical, Usnavi dreams of going back to Dominican Republic, and in the trailer, we see him struggling to save money to do so: “I’ve been saving up all my pennies in my piggy bank for this day.” In addition, characters whose ambitions hadn’t been explored in the original play are now being given a larger focus, such as Vanessa, who evidently dreams of becoming a fashion designer in the new film.

All in all, the new trailers promise a beautiful, moving, and heartfelt story that new and old fans of the musical will love. We can undoubtedly expect this film to be a fantastic adaptation of the beloved Broadway show that will serve as an authentic representation of a powerful community with strong cultural values and even stronger individuals.

You can stream the original Broadway cast musical recording of In the Heights on Spotify, Pandora, and Apple Music.

Sofia Camacho is a third-year Industrial Engineering student at UPRM with a passion for reading, writing, and theater.
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