Staff Review: In the Heights directed by John M. Chu

I am a big fan of musicals, Broadway or otherwise. I’ve been fortunate to see a few live on stage, both locally and in the Big Apple itself, but I always love a movie musical that makes the theatre world accessible to anyone, anywhere. When I first saw the trailer for “In the Heights”, I knew I was going to love it, and this was before I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda’s more recent masterpiece, “Hamilton” on Disney+. Lin-Manuel wrote the music and lyrics for both of these ground-breaking musicals, both taking him years to perfect. His heart and soul are poured into both of these productions, and they are both incredible pieces of art that won multiple Tony awards, including Best Musical. The release for “In the Heights” was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it has finally been released and is available to borrow at TBPL! “Hamilton” fans will recognize Miranda himself as Piragua Guy, as well as Anthony Ramos, who takes on the lead role of Usnavi de la Vega.

“In the Heights” follows Usnavi, a young man who immigrated from the Dominican Republic when he was a child with his family to New York City. We follow him in the Washington Heights neighbourhood over the course of three days as we meet his neighbours and family. Usnavi introduces us to Abuela Claudia, the matriarch of the Heights who raised him after the passing of his parents, the Rosario family who work next door with a daughter off at Stanford, his cousin and co-worker Sonny, his not-so-secret crush Vanessa, as well as others. The story takes place as a heat wave strikes the Heights and people are left to deal with the heat as well as the everyday struggles of day-to-day life in the Heights. As the ensemble remarks:

“In the heights, I flip the lights and start my day / There are fights /

And endless debts / And bills to pay”.

As customers come to Usnavi’s bodega to buy their regular lottery tickets, Usnavi remarks:

“A lottery ticket, just a part of the routine / Everybody’s got a job, everybody’s got a dream”.

A winning lottery ticket is sold for $96,000, and the people of the Heights wonder who is the winner, and who can now afford to make their dreams come true. The Heights is full of dreamers, as the story of immigration is ever-present during the film. The cast and characters are largely Latinx, with characters reminiscing about their families previous lives in places such as the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. Anyone who has family members that came from another country is probably familiar with some of the thoughts from the characters in the film: leaving their country to start a new and better life, while trying to preserve and honour their culture in their new surroundings. The story and actors do an amazing job at keeping the Latinx culture strong and vibrant throughout the film.

As predicted from a Lin-Manuel Miranda production, the music in “In the Heights” is fantastic. From the opening number (“In the Heights”), the audience gets a feel for the style the musical will take in terms of its music, though the entire musical isn’t a hip-hop performance. Miranda does an amazing job of integrating different styles seamlessly into the story. While there are hip-hop-heavy songs, there are also heartwarming ballads. Our introduction to Nina (“Breathe”) is one such song, as well as Abuela Claudia’s ballad about her immigration to Nueva York (“Paciencia y Fe”).

“In the Heights” is full of love and warmth (and not just from the heat wave!). The story brings so much focus to the love of family and community, and features some incredibly talented actors, singers and dancers. Good luck getting the songs out of your head for a while after watching! If you haven’t already, be sure to check out “In the Heights” today!

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