In the Heights
By James Davidson
“In the Heights” is a musical by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda. It has just been adapted for the big screen and was released in theaters and the HBO Max streaming service on June 11th 2021. It stars Anthony Ramos as Usnavi, a bodega owner in the New York neighborhood Washington Heights. Usnavi dreams and sings of a better life in his homeland of the Dominican Republic and strenuously saves every penny he can to move back and reopen a bar that his father once owned there.
Unlike “Hamilton”, which is the Broadway musical that was filmed on Broadway and edited to be released as a movie. “In the Heights” is a Broadway musical that has been adapted specifically for a theatrical release. I didn’t know much about this musical, other than it was by the same creator that created “Hamilton” and that it was written before “Hamilton”. My wife on the other hand, who is a huge Broadway fan, was very excited for this release. Overall, I enjoyed this musical, even if it isn’t really my thing.
The plot of the musical was quite interesting. It gave an interesting look into the lives of immigrants from other countries and their struggles making a new life in America. Some adapted well, especially second or third generation immigrants who grew up in New York and embraced the culture. Others, who remembered their lives before immigration, struggled to acclimate and dreamed of going back to their home countries and making a better life there. It was an interesting insight into the struggles of everyday life in this particular borough of New York City. It shows how long time business owners in the big city struggle with gentrification and how they want better lives for their children, but also struggle to keep the neighborhood the same.
I was impressed by the performances of the actors. Led by Ramos, this star studded cast including Stephanie Beatriz, Corey Hawkins, and Leslie Grace gave emotional, powerful acting performances that portrayed their characters perfectly. All of the musical numbers were extremely well performed, well choreographed, and catchy.
While I enjoyed the musical numbers and the acting for the most part, my one complaint would be the songs seemed too similar to the ones in “Hamilton”. While “In the Heights” was written first and premiered first on Broadway, many people including myself have seen “Hamilton first and the music seemed almost the same. There were several times when, if I was just listening to the music, I would have thought that I had already heard the songs in “ Hamilton” before. This isn’t really a knock, as the music in both musicals is fantastic, I was just expecting something a little different.
This movie is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references. There are some adult themes in this film and it wouldn’t be appropriate for some younger viewers. It would be a great date night movie, or good for a family movie night with older teens.
“In the Heights” is a fantastically written and acted musical that is a must see for any fan of “Hamilton”, or any musical fan for that matter. It was well choreographed and the musical numbers are catchy and fun. It also provokes some deeper thoughts about the struggles of immigrants and gentrification in big cities. It earns 4 out of 5 stars.