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In The Heights

  • By Quendrith Johnson
  • Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros.

Broadway’s Hamilton wunderkind Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony winning In The Heights, splashes on to the big screen this month. The movie begins with “there’s a breeze blowing off the Hudson” in “a story of a block that was disappearing.” And this ‘welcome back to movie theaters’ confection is about as joyous and uplifting a way to end the Pandemic as possible! Along with director Jon M. Chu of Crazy Rich Asians fame, Miranda and original book writer Quiara Algeria Hudes have added layers of magic realism to this adaptation that infuses the heady concepts of representation and identity with a wow-factor not seen since West Side Story. But unlike West Side Story, this is no tragic love triangle. Instead, Heights is about real-life issues – Dreamers, better jobs, and citizenship – infused with singing and dancing in an amped urban scene during a 1980’s electrical black-out.

Told with humor, Usnavi de la Vega (Anthony Ramos), originally played by Miranda on stage, was named for the “first thing” his father saw when he immigrated to the US, a “US Navy” cruiser in the harbor. Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), Usnavi’s achingly gorgeous crush, hopes of a bright fashion future and new apartment. In orbit around them is a safety net of family and friends, but there are small heartbreaks and big upheavals as the mural of their lives unfold. Jimmy Smits sparkles as Nina’s (the pride of the neighborhood) father, willing to give up his livelihood for her college and future. Olga Merediz shines as everyone’s Abuela Claudia, as well as the maestro Miranda himself in endearing cameos, elevate this sassy piquant musical into the truly transcendent, as Usnavi’s bodega becomes the proscenium arch for all of our hopes and Dreamers as a country.

When fire hydrants are cracked open, and public pools become awash with literally everyone from Washington Heights, a sequence opens with an epic water-number that would make Busby Berkeley proud. Choreography takes dancers like Alex Wong (and others) to the heights in spectacular pieces worthy of musical hits Fameand A Chorus Line, except the backdrops are thrashed-out rhythms in aqua pools, or done as bolts colored cloth shooting across a magical realism hued New York City sky.

See “In The Heights” from Warner Bros. on June 18th, and on HBO Max.