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In the Heights the Movie

The movie adaptation of the 2008 Broadway musical In The Heights that Lin-Manuel Miranda, playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes have crafted is exactly what we all need to avoid post-pandemic-syndrome. It 's a visual spectacle with a big cast that stops singing and dancing just long enough for some more intimate storytelling.

The film version retains Miranda's potpourri of musical sounds. The varied styles of hip-hop, rap, Broadway-style show tunes, and salsa also permeate the exuberant dancing.

But this is not a case of recapturing the source on screen. While the show won a Tony and had a healthy 4-year run it didn't become a global legacy hit like Hamilton. That's why, that show's screen version replicated a performance of the original production so that it would bcome part of the show's history as well as an onscreen entertainment that further expanded its audience.

The In the Heights movie, on the other hand, is a brand-new, original enterprise. New Cast. New director and choreographer. The movie still revolves around the stage show's plot threads, per my review more than a decade ago that combined my take on its downtown trial run and Broadway premiere ( my review). But, in addition to the cast and creative team changes, the movie has updated the storytelling and presentation of the songs.

Best of all, the adaptation was shot in the streets of Washington Heights, the upper Manhattan neighborhood dominated by immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries and their children. The George Washington Bridge that's always visible from the area's streets, symbolizes all the other people who have had to cross bridges to take them to a new homeland for a better life. Even as they assimilated, however, they would also hold on to their cultural heritage.

Washington Heights has always attracted people for whom English was a second language. My own memories of this neighborhood date back when it was home to many refugees from Nazi Germany and nicknamed "Frankfurt on the Hudson."

The on location filming makes the movie wonderfully authentic and lively. It also enabled the director and his team to make it feel like one of those spectacular musicals Hollywood made to help people escape from the Great Depression's painful reality. The neighborhood's still standing Highbridge Pool was built during the same time. Happily, that pool has been used to create a truly super-spectacular show-stopper that has the entire ensemble singing and dancing in that pool.

As in the source production, it's Miranda's songs and the eye-popping choreography that give In the Heights its sizzle and flair. That's even more so thanks to those in-the-hood Busby Berkely numbers.

While most of the cast members are unknown, all give star-making performances. But the major new star here is Anthony Ramos who here portrays Usavi, the narrator and pivotal character originally played by Miranda. Though Ramos did play two parts in Hamilton, this is his breakout as a central character. The Usavi role is much more worthy of his talents than his part in the misguided update of the In Treatment TV series. Ramos manages to make Usavi endearing and sexy. No complaints about his singing and dancing either.

Miranda does show up as the guy who pushes his piragua cart. Another member of the original cast is Olga Merediz. Unlike Miranda's cameo, she's back as a key character. As Claudia, everybody's grandma, she's again a heart-stirring presence.

The changes in the storytelling work pretty well to introduce issues and events the neighborhoods residents would be talking about now. A rather unnecessary and new twist are the scenes that bookend the show with jump cuts to an island in Usavi's native Dominican Republic where he hopes one day to live and run a beachside bar as his father did. The kids with whom he shares his his memories are cute but these detours from the Washington Heights setting are more distracting than necessary.

The two romances that drive the plot are still between Usnavi's and wannabe fashion designer Vanessa (Melissa Barerra) who works at the feisty Daniela's hair salon (Daphne Rubin-Vega) , and Stanford University student Nina Rosario (Leslie Grace) and Benny (Corey Hawkins) Benny who works the dispatch of Nina's father, Kevin (Jimmy Smits). Her identy has been hyphenated to Afro-Latina. This now explains her decision about returing to Stanford not just to avoid bankrupting her dad but as a reslt of with a racist inciden in her dorm.

Though downbeat and all too real problems are not ignored, neither are they allowed to dampen the joyuous spirit. keeps the songs and dancing going even as the temperature rises. Even a lengty blackout can't stop a planned festival — especially when it turns out someone nabbed the winning lottery ticket sold in Usavi's store and the winner will be announced at the park surrounding the Heights pool. While the $96,000 ticket remains unclaimed, it does bring on a dazzling number called, you guessed it, "96,000."

And so mission accomplished. Whether you watch it in your local theater or at HBO , In the Heights is a fun, forget-your-troubles two-hour joy ride. Whether it earns back the big money spent to make and market it remains to be seen.

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In the Heights
Screenplay by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Based on stage musical by Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda
Directed by Jon M. Chu

Principal cast members
Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega
Corey Hawkins as Benny
Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario
Melissa Barrera as Vanessa Morales
Olga Merediz as "Abuela" Claudia
Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela
Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny de la Vega
Jimmy Smits as Kevin Rosario
Stephanie Beatriz as Carla

Cinematography Alice Brooks
Edited by Myron Kerstein
Produced by Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes, Scott Sanders, Anthony Bregman, Mara Jacobs
Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Music by Lin-Manuel Miranda
Cinematography Alice Brooks
Edited by Myron Kerstein
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures and relessed in uzs film thesters on June 10, 2021; and at HBO Max, for 40 dayd br> Running time: 143 minutes
Review by Elyse Sommer

©Copyright 2021 Elyse Sommer.ain Page

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