One night I dragged my friend to a show playing in the same theatre I made my Broadway debut. Inside the Richard Rodgers Theatre was an entire production with ridiculously sharp music and choreography featuring a diverse cast popping off rhymes. It starred mostly unknowns including a young, former substitute teacher I would catch a glimpse of every Wednesday night at the Broadway Bowling League. His name is Lin Manuel-Miranda. The kinetic energy felt that night in the Richard Rodgers was duplicated ten-fold when I screened this musical adaptation.
From the cinematography, score, cameos and full dramatizations of songs I’ve heard a million times like “Just Breathe,” In the Heights is epic and makes for a cinematic experience leaving you lighter, smiling and dancing as the credits roll. One can totally hear the signature sound, which made ‘Hamilton’ a mega hit garnering 16 Tony nominations beating his own record of 13 nominations with ‘In The Heights.’
After a 2005 tryout in Waterford, Connecticut and a 2007 off-Broadway run, the show opened in March 2008. It was nominated for thirteen Tony Awards and won four, including Best Musical. In the Heights centers on a variety of Washington Heights residents. Usnavi, (Anthony Ramos) a bodega owner who looks after the neighborhood griot – Abuella Claudia (Olga Merediz) and has a crush on his childhood friend Nina (Leslie Grace) who works in the beauty salon with dreams of winning the lotto and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic. Meanwhile, Nina has returned from her first year at college with surprising news. Usnavi starting his day amidst the madness sets the tone for 143 minute musical movie where we fall in love with Nina, Benny (Corey Hawkins), Daniela (Daphne Ruben-Vega), Marc Anthony, Kevin Rosario (Jimmy Smits) and the amazing Olga Merediz.
What I love most are paralled commonalities illustrated between Black and Brown communities. How we live, love, have passionate feelings about education and what doors and opportunities come or are taken away as a result of being from the wrong part of the city.
Having lived in that area of Manhattan, my heart swelled with memories of Utz potato chips, sounds blasting from every window, corner bodegas, kids playing hopscotch, jumping double dutch, playing dominoes and chess, not to mention the outrageous nail art as only the Dominican salons can create. Like Abuella says, “…it’s the little details that tell the world we are not invisible,” a line that resonates so much closer to home after being shut in for over a year.
Anthony Ramos is a star…period. He carries this film effortlessly with energy, verve and a light setting the tone for the entire cinematic experience. However, it is Olga Merediz that shines so brightly the glare burns my eyes. Having originated the role onstage, she takes it up more than a notch and will leave audiences in a puddle of tears while bearing witness to her journey from Cuba to New York.
Christopher Scott’s choreography is bananas! Between the hip-hop water ballet in the neighborhood pool giving us a throwback to old Busby Berkely musicals from those classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear and that Fred Astaire ‘Royal Wedding’ nod with starcrossed lovers dancing on the side of a tenament – it’s all simply breathtaking. The nod to all the historic Latina women over the decades, gentrification and ‘urban removal’ is fantabulous and a much needed history lesson for some folks who would attempt the erasure of Puerto Rican, Domincan, Cubans and their contribution to vitality of our country. Of course the production design is as authentic as it gets – Thanks Nelson Coates
This film will literally have you dancing in your seats and after being shut in for well over a year, who couldn’t stand to have a joy infusion. Yet, simulataneously be a reminder of the undocumented dreamers longing to indulge in all that being American has to offer by way of freedom and opportunity. Produced by Warner Brothers and directed by Jon Chu , you will never look at Manhattan the same again after taking a trip to Washington Heights.