In the Heights: the musical about community soon to be a movie

In the Heights: the musical about community soon to be a movie

If you like musical theatre, you have probably heard about In the Heights, a show by Lin-Manuel Miranda which opened on Broadway in 2008. In June, a movie adapted from this musical will hit the cinemas. 

 

Covid-19 affected the cinematic release of Lin Manuel Miranda’s projects. . His show In the Heights was supposed to arrive on big screens during the summer of 2020, followed bya recorded production of Hamilton in October 2021. However, Covid changed things: after In The Heights was postponed to summer 2021, Miranda’s fans got Hamilton on Disney + to console themselves.  

In the Heights has been a much anticipated movie by Miranda’s fans, and all the theatre kids who just can’t wait to hear the show tune they have been singing for more than a decade, blasted from cinema speakers. Even if the musical opened on Broadway in 2008, In The Heights’ story started years before, and is still going on.

In the Heights: the musical about community soon to be a movie

 

In The Heights: Lin Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway musical 

 

Everything started in 1999, when Miranda,a second-year student at Wesleyan University, Connecticut, wrote the first draft of what would become In the Heights. The show had great success for a weekend at the student theatre, but nothing more – or at least not immediately. 

Miranda met Thomas Kail, who became In the Heights’ director, in 2002 and Quiara Alegria Hudes was hired in 2004 to write the book. Other people, who then kept working with Miranda on later projects like Hamilton, joined the team. Among them was the music director Alex Lacamoire and actor Christopher Jackson (Benny in In the Heights, George Washington in Hamilton).

Years of work led this team to the most famous New York avenue in 2008. The same year, In the Heights won four Tony Awards, including one for Best Musical. The show was then brought to different countries like the Philippines (the first international representation, 2011), the United Kingdom (2015, then on West End from 2015 to 2017), Japan (2014) and Denmark (2018). 

In the Heights: the musical about community soon to be a movie

 

In the Heights is so popular because it’s about everything you want it to be about. Following the lives of several inhabitants of Washington Heights, you can feel this sense of community and unity, especially during the hard times. 

Having written a whole show about the Hispanic-American quarter he grew up in, Miranda played the main role, Usnavi, son of Dominican immigrants and owner of the local bodega. He’s the narrator of the story and explains the settings in the opening number.

 

The ongoing adventure with the In the Heights movie and book

 

The cinematic adaptation of this musical will come on big screens on 11 June 2021, after fans, who planned to see it last summer, have waited for more than a year.. From the several movie posters and the two trailers, we can tell that this movie will be worth the wait. 

Director of Crazy Rich Asians, Jon M. Chu makes his style already visible in the trailer for In the Heights, in which we can see the large ensemble of dancers and the colourful settings. Alegría Hudes was still in charge of the screenplay and Miranda’s influence, as a part of the producing team, was obvious. 

Miranda (the first one to play Usnavi) plays Mr. Piragüero, the Piragua Guy, in the movie. It is a very small role, but it gave the creator some on-screen time. By paying close attention, original fans could even catch a sign of Christopher Jackson, who teased about doing a cameo.

Anthony Ramos, who previously played Usnavi on stage, took back the role, alongside Olga Merediz who played Abuela Claudia on Broadway in 2008 and continues to do so in the movie.

Cory Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Daphne Rubin-Vega and Stephanie Beatriz are also part of the cast. The book In the Heights: Finding Home, telling the story of the musical’s development, from the first draft to the movie, will be out in July. 

 

Songs that mean a lot 

 

“Breath”, by Mandy Gonzalez

Mandy Gonzalez plays Nina, a young woman who left Washington Heights to go to college. As the first one in her family (and in the neighbourhood) to get a higher education, she’s under a lot of pressure, especially when things don’t go as they were planned.

Nina exposes all her doubts and the pain she feels when she comes back home. She confesses that, at Stanford University, she struggled with her identity, but she feels bad about saying that to her relatives. 

Nina presents herself as “the biggest disappointment you know” while continuously trying to hide her feelings and put on a mask to save the appearances. She feels like she’s letting everyone down, and it’s only four songs later that she finally tells everyone she dropped out. 

The song’s power comes from this story, in which a lot of young people, and second-generation immigrants may recognise themselves. The pressure is high, and failure is hard. But hope can be found in the rest of the musical and especially in the song “When You’re Home”, in which Nina continues to express her doubts but Benny shows her the bright side of being home. 

“They regard me with pride,
And everyone’s sweet,
They say, “You’re going places!’
So how can I say that while I was away
I had so much to hide?
‘Hey guys, it’s me!
The biggest disappointment you know.’
The kid couldn’t hack it
She’s back and she’s walkin’ real slow.”

 

 

“Inútil”, by Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez plays Nina’s dad, Kevin Rosario, who emigrated from the Caribbean to New York. This song allows Kevin to tell both his feelings and his story. He decided to emigrate against his father’s wishes for him to become a farmer, as the third generation in his family. He thought he would “change the world someday” but his father wasn’t happy with his decision.

This song can be seen as a representation of immigrants’ difficulties, and it sheds light on the pressure to do better than previous family generations and to secure a better life for their children.  

“And I always knew that she would fly away
That she was gonna change the world someday.
I will not be the reason
That my family can’t succeed
I will do what it takes
They’ll have everything they need
Or all my work, all my life
Everything I’ve sacrificed will have been useless.”

 

“96,000”, by Ensemble

There are too many voices in this song to name all of them, like a global discussion starting with Usnavi and Benny and then expanding to the rest of the neighbours who joined either in the ensemble or to tell their their own stories, like Sonny (Robin de Jesús) and Vanessa (Karen Olivo).

The song is about winning the lottery and thinking about what you would do with the money. Each character exposes their own dreams, saying what they would do if they got that 96,000 dollars. Between jokes and childhood dreams, you can spot some deep-rooted societal problems. 

Benny (the only non-Hispanic character) explains how he would like to be finally able to live his life without worrying about money and an exhausting job. Sonny explains he would use the money to fix everything in his neighbourhood, because the politicians and the rich don’t care about them. 

“It’s silly when we get into these crazy hypotheticals
You really want some bread? Then go ahead create a set of goals
And cross them off the list as you pursue ‘em
And with those ninety-six, I know precisely what I’m doin’
(What’chu doin’?)
What’m I doin? What’m I doin?
It takes most of that cash just to save my ass from financial ruin.”

Carnaval del Barrio, by Ensemble

This song embodies the sense of community, especially in dark times when difficulties seem to be impossible to get through. Washington Heights dances to the rhythm of a Latino carnival in which everyone tells their stories and sings about whatever they want, just to be together and enjoy the moment. 

The lyrics and music tell you that you can find hope and joy during hard times. The moral of the story is that even if things are changing, even if communities are evolving and some immigrants’ neighbourhoods are poor and powerless, there is always pride and life can always be celebrated.

“Maybe you’re right, Sonny, call in the coroners!
Maybe we’re powerless, a corner full of foreigners
Maybe this neighborhood’s changing forever
Maybe tonight is our last night together, however!
How do you want to face it?
Do you wanna waste it, when the end is so close you can taste it?
Y’all could cry with your head in the sand
I’m a fly this flag that I got in my hand!”

 

Either you have been a fan of the musical from the very beginning, or you are still waiting for the movie to discover the story, but watching In The Heights this summer might be one of the best things of the year, so don’t waste this opportunity. And you, did you know this musical? Are you excited to see the movie? Let us know in the comments section! 

 

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About the author

Laurine Tiran

I'm a French student doing a Master's degree in International Politics at the University of Toulon, France.

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