In the Heights hits new highs

Wed. June 2, 2021 12:00 AM
by Jerry Nunn

In the Heights was originally on the Broadway stage in 2008 and finally has a movie adaptation in 2021, after a pandemic delay. Well, it has certainly been worth the wait and won't disappoint longtime fans of the popular musical. 

In the Heights, during its theatrical run, was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won four of them. Watchers of the movie will eventually see and hear the influences that led Lin-Manuel Miranda to make the megahit Hamilton later in life. 

This adaptation will take viewers on a trip back to New York with some new moments to enjoy. Director Jon M. Chu and writer Quiara Alegria Hudes have brought the original script up to date while keeping the spirit of the text intact. 

Anthony Ramos plays Washington Heights bodega owner Usnavi de la Vega. He serves at the narrator and protagonist in a unique and friendly way. The movie already does a nice job improving on the stage version with Vega telling the story to young kids instead of directly breaking the fourth wall. Ramos brings a humbleness to the movie role that many of theater actors missed in past productions. It makes him more likeable and allows the story to focus on the valuable background characters at the same time. 

The movie also allows bigger dance sequences including water park scene that is spectacular and brings special effects to enhance the story. Miranda adds a brand new song called "Home All Summer" to the already memorable soundtrack. 

Not only is Ramos good, but look for my past Steppenwolf Theatre interviewee Jimmy Smits as the father Kevin Rosario. Gregory Diaz IV is a standout as the younger brother Sonny de la Vega and Orange Is the New Black's Dascha Polaco has a small but mighty part as Cuca. There are so many fun cameos along the way that I will leave them as surprises. Miranda himself casts himself as the Stan Lee of the film that certainly hits all the right notes, in terms of humor and performance, also look for him in a post credit scene that is just like a Marvel movie. 

While I would have enjoyed seeing Rita Moreno play Abuela Claudia, Olga Merediz, who originated the role on Broadway, does a nice job with some tender, genuine moments. Much of the cast have paid their dues in the theater and it feels like Miranda is rewarding them by keeping them along for the ride in this film adaptation. 

The cast is a rainbow of Latin actors that covers practically every country. It makes this adaptation feel authentic and creates a family as they all pursue their dreams together in New York. 

In the Heights will make some laugh, some cry and some think of their relatives in the over two hour running time. The actors obviously had a good time making this project and that translates in the experience for the audience. 

Miranda mentioned recently that he hopes the movie is not just for the summer, but continues being popular into the fall. After watching it, he doesn't have much to worry about. This show is now immortalized on the screen and will definitely demand more return visits to Washington Heights. 

In the Heights premieres at the cinema and streaming online at the same time on June 10. It is rated PG-13 and should appeal to a wide range of ages, especially those that love musicals. Dance over to a theater near you or sing out loud in your living room with!