If you think the musical Hamilton was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s breakthrough into superstatardom, you’re only partially correct. That 2015 musical may have cemented his fame, but Miranda rose to earlier prominence with his musical, In the Heights, about life in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, which was on Broadway in 2008 and earned The Tony Award for Best Musical and Best Score, a Grammy Award for Best Musical Show Album and the Laurence Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music.
Miranda has been working to get this Broadway musical adapted to the big screen for several years, and in early 2021 (following several COVID-19 delays), the feature film version of In the Heights, opens a new window appeared, to critical acclaim. It features a huge cast of characters, headlined by Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Gace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Ruben-Vega, Gregory Diaz IV and Jimmy Smits. The lives of multiplate characters are all at various turning points, in storylines that interweave and overlap, and their emotional highlights are told are explored through musical song-and-dance numbers — some massive, some involving magical realism (dancing on the side of a building), and others intimate.
In the Heights, opens a new window is a celebration of musical theatre of the modern era, while still harkening back to the days of classic film musicals like West Side Story (ironic, considering that a new film version of West Side Story was also released in 2021!). Instead of primarily ballads, this show/movie explores the musical styles of hip-hop and rap. The vocalists are all tremendous, but Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia (the only Broadway cast member to reprise their role in the film) steals the show, particularly in her emotional number “Paciencia y Fe”.
In addition to terrific performances, this film was a visual feast for the eyes, with a broad and expansive range of bright colors in set design and costumes. Definitely one of my favorite films from 2021, and I highly recommend it for any fan of movie musicals.
(If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try listening to the soundtrack album to this film, opens a new window or the original Broadway cast recording from 2008, opens a new window. A great “making of” book, In the Heights: Finding Home, opens a new window, chronicles the history of this musical and the production of this film.)