I just love IN THE HEIGHTS.
Right from the beginning, I was hooked! That opening number, ‘In the Heights’? It’s a whirlwind of a song. We meet Usnavi (our hero, played by Anthony Ramos), most of the people in the neighbourhood, and of course, Washington Heights itself.
The real star of IN THE HEIGHTS is Washington Heights. It’s a Latino American neighbourhood in New York City. And always under threat of gentrification. Filled with people who came from all over the world, everyone has a little dream. A sueñito.
It’s just south of where writer/creator/singer/adult theatre kid Lin-Manuel Miranda grew up. He wants us to love Washington Heights as much as he does. He says the streets are made of music. And they are.
You might know Lin-Manuel Miranda as the creator and star of the Broadway phenomenon ‘Hamilton’. IN THE HEIGHTS was his first Broadway musical. If you’re a fan of ‘Hamilton’, you’ll be rewarded with a bunch of fun Easter Eggs. And if you’re not a fan, no matter: you likely soon will be.
This musical is just… mind blowing. There are so many styles of song and dance. And it’s a really complicated story. Ambitious. There are so many characters, and each has their own storyline. In less capable hands, it could be hard to follow. Chaotic, even. But Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes (the screenplay writer) manage to weave all these stories together. The result is magical. IN THE HEIGHTS is about community.
John Chu (of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ fame) is the perfect director. No gritty, realistic, snot-filled musicals here. IN THE HEIGHTS is fantasy. People defy gravity, dancing on fire escape walls. There’s lightsabers and diamonds drawn in people’s hands with textas. None of that winking to the camera. No ‘we’re all too old for this’. IN THE HEIGHTS brings the stage musical to the cinema screen. It commits, absolutely.
It’s hard to choose a favourite character. Probably because they are all so connected to one another. You can’t have Usnavi without Vanessa (the love interest), Sonny (his cousin), Benny (his best friend), or Abuela Claudia (the woman who helped raise them all). You can’t separate them. They’re harmonies layered together in a single song.
Nor can I choose a favourite scene. Is it ‘96,000’, filmed at a pool, a Latino American reimagining of old school Hollywood glamour? Is it the determined Vanessa singing ‘It Won’t Be Long Now’, on the edge of leaving Washington Heights and everything behind her? Is it the trio of salon ladies stealing every scene they are in? Perhaps it’s them leading the neighbourhood in ‘Carnaval del Barrio’, after the power goes out and the heat wave continues?
One more thing that I loved. I’ve watched a lot of musicals about reaching for a dream. People working hard jobs, wanting to get out and even get rich. But this is the first one in a long time that didn’t trash talk the people who are left behind.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a musical theatre nerd. Or if you’ve never seen a musical in your life. IN THE HEIGHTS is life affirming, spectacular, and an absolute joy.
Oh, and stick around for the after credits scene. Like I said, it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
In The Heights hits cinemas June 24, you can also see our interview with Director Jon M. Chu here.