This weekend sees the release of "In the Heights," the lively summer musical. Originally slated for a June 2020 release, Lin-Manuel Miranda's breakthrough Broadway hit finally comes to screens one year later. Vibrant and engaging, "In the Heights" is the perfect film for the summer. And, after a year of being stuck inside, if there's one film that will get your body moving, it's this one. As director Jon M. Chu said, "['In the Heights'] is a vaccine for your soul." So, for those looking to step out this weekend, here are nine more things to know about "In the Heights."
There Wouldn't Be "Hamilton" Without "In the Heights"
"In the Heights" was Lin-Manuel Miranda's first big Broadway break. But we're not just trying to say that the success of one would only lead to the other. Miranda had been developing a movie adaptation of "In the Heights" since 2008, the year the musical opened on Broadway. Universal was the studio hoping to make it happen, eyeing a 2011 start. But production fell apart after producers wanted a big name Latinx star. As Miranda waited to hear if and when production would begin again, in 2012 he went on vacation. His reading material for the trip was Ron Chernow's Alexander Hamilton biography. And the rest is -- as they say -- musical history.
The Story Is Real and Personal
The musical revolves around four young adults trying to achieve their dreams. Nina (Leslie Grace) is one such character that struggles to make this happen. There is a lot of pressure on Nina to succeed, but she ends up dropping out of college and heading back home. It's a story many of us can relate to. But, when Miranda was pitching "In the Heights" to Broadway producers, they wanted him to amp up the drama and the stakes. The producers had a hard time wrapping their heads around real-world problems, like being the first in your family to leave for college.
Miranda grew up in the Heights and drew on personal stories to craft the arcs of the four central characters. Much the same screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes used her own experiences, and the experiences of others, as a first-generation college student to show just how the stakes for Nina are already high enough.
Director Jon M. Chu Has Been on a Roll
Jon M. Chu had a bumpy start as a director, helming some critical misses like "G.I. Joe: Retaliation" and "Jem and the Holograms." But in 2018 he finally landed a knockout with "Crazy Rich Asians." Now, with "In the Heights," Chu is able to revisit his roots. Dance is on full display and has always been a central part of his movies from his start with the "Step Up" sequels. Up next for the director is a live-action adaptation of Disney's "Lilo & Stitch" and another Broadway musical adaptation, "Wicked" for Universal.
The Musical Needed an Update for "Modern Times"
One such update was finding a young enough actor to take the lead as Usnavi. This was Miranda's role on Broadway, but he felt he was too old to play him in the film. Anthony Ramos was it, and he even got Miranda's personal tweet of approval after seeing Ramos perform the part in a production of the stage musical in 2018. Several other changes were made to update the musical from 2005/2008 to 2020/2021. This includes references to microaggressions, "Dreamers" (children born to undocumented immigrants), and even a nixing of a reference to Trump for Tiger Woods.
"In the Heights" Is About Everyone
One of the gratifying things for a performer in the stage musical was that everyone on the stage was a central character. "In the Heights" is not just about four kids looking to realize their dreams. It's more than just Usnavi, Vanessa, Nina, and Benny. The neighborhood is the real protagonist, and to help us realize that everyone in the cast has to play a role.
It's Not Just About the Music, but Also the Sounds of the City
In the opening moments of the movie, Nina just wants to listen to the sounds of her block. The passing cars; the neighbors gossiping on their fire escapes; the clanging of the grate to the bodega. It's all there to put you right into the rooms, apartments, stores, salons, and on the streets where it happens.
Critics are Raving
We're not just hyping up a movie for the fun of it (even if that's what we do). "In the Heights" is already topping out the Tomatometer at 97% (at time of reporting). It's sunny celebration of culture with a toe-tapping beat makes this a must-see for everyone, not just musical lovers.
NYC Wants You to Visit the Real Washington Heights
Washington Heights is the central character, and NYC wants you to experience the actual neighborhood in full effect. As part of the city's larger tourism campaign called the Latino Experience in New York City, NYC is putting Washington Heights front and center. The tourism campaign, in partnership with the film itself, will take you to the actual parks and subway stops featured in the film, along with other neighborhood highlights.
See It on the Biggest Screen Possible!
Yeah, "In the Heights" is now available on HBO Max for the next 30 days. But to really get the full effect of this movie, you'll want to see it in the theater. The sound, the music, the dance, and the direction. There will not be a better place to experience all of the above than on the big screen.
June 10, 2021
Matt Lissauer is a writer & data manager for Noovie. When he is not busy writing listicles, Matt is enjoying life in New Jersey with his lovely wife and three kids.