After years of development and false starts, the original musical from Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda is finally about to hit movie theaters nationwide.
In The Heights, based on Miranda’s first Best Musical Tony winner in 2008, explores the changing dynamics for people young and old in the Hispanic immigrant community of Washington Heights in New York City.
While this first trailer certainly looks faithful to the source, a line of dialogue about Dreamers (a.k.a. the children of illegal immigrants who have only known the U.S.A. as their home) would suggest that some relevant updates have been made as well.
As someone who saw the original cast on Broadway — which included Lin-Manuel Miranda in the lead role of Usnavi — a couple of things are particularly striking about what is teased here. First is how director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) incorporates modern energy into a classic approach that’s straight from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Modern film musicals are notable for their fast-paced editing and visual effect flourishes. This aesthetic, at times, actually masks the dancing talents of an ensemble rather than highlighting them. Here, even in the quick cutting of a movie trailer, it’s clear that Chu is intent on showcasing the Broadway-worthy moves of his cast, using beautifully-framed wide shots that linger and last on choreography rather than chopping it up. You know, like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire used to do, along with so many classic musicals from the genre’s mid-century height.
Also striking: instead of cutting together a montage of snippets from various songs in the soundtrack, only variations of the title song “In The Heights” is used to create an emotional journey that ranges from vibrant to poignant and back again, effectively capturing the very spirit of the whole piece itself. They’re not simply pitching “the show”; they’re pitching the emotional experience.
With Miranda now too old to reprise his role, Anthony Ramos takes over as Usnavi, the young Dominican-American with a Washington Heights bodega who finds himself at an early life crossroads. Ramos (known mostly for his supporting turn in 2018’s A Star Is Born) played Usnavi in a Kennedy Center revival of the show, and is also an original cast alum of Miranda’s Hamilton.
This story of love, hope, passion and dreams hit my heart and soul like a ton of bricks when I first saw it. The experience had me leaving the theatre not only on a musical high — fueled by Miranda’s innovative hip-hop musical style, with songs that thrill, excite, and move you to tears — but with a renewed hope (and faith!) in our shared humanity. It’s absolutely beautiful, especially for its generational scope (the impact of Abuela Claudia is among the story’s most moving), and this adaptation looks to be everything I was hoping it would be, fully capturing the show’s heart and artistry.
Joining Ramos in the cast are Melissa Barrera (Vanessa), Corey Hawkins (Benny), Leslie Grace (Nina), Olga Merediz (Abuela Claudia), Jimmy Smits (Kevin Rosario), Daphne Rubin-Vega (Daphne Rubin-Vega), Brooklyn 99‘s Stephanie Beatriz (Carla), Dascha Polanco (Cuca), Gregory Diaz IV (Sonny), plus Marc Anthony and Lin-Manuel Miranda himself (as “Piragua Guy”).
In The Heights hits movie theaters at last next summer on June 26, 2020.
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