2021 is the year of the major movie musical. With movie adaptations of Dear Evan Hansen, Tick Tick Boom, Everybody's Talking About Jamie and West Side Story arriving before the end of the year, first out of the gate is this adaptation of Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin Manuel Miranda's In The Heights.
Opening on Broadway in 2008 and landing in London in 2015, In The Heights has always felt slightly in the shadow of another musical written by Miranda. However, the notoriety and fame achieved by Hamilton has only helped bring In The Heights to a wider audience - and so, the film adaptation arrives.
Set in New York, In The Heights tells the story of a tight-knit community in Washington Heights during a scorching hot summer as we count down the days til their block has a blackout. Through the course of the movie, we watch the characters go through their life, suffer loss and fall in love, all the while falling in love with them ourselves. The main protagonist is Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos who reprises the role after playing it on stage and shows his range and versatility after playing a 9 year old in Hamilton. We meet other characters through his eyes and see for ourselves what their little dreams are. While the action moves away from Usnavi so we can check in on the other characters, through a clever framing device that reveals itself at the end, he is never far from view and is the glue that holds the movie together.
Other main players are Leslie Grace as Nina and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa - two formidable characters who tell their own stories while being love interests to Usnavi and Benny, played by Corey Hawkins. Other standout turns are Olga Merediz as "Abuela" and Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela. Lin Manuel Miranda also gets an extended cameo as the Piragua guy - joined by a cameo from another former Hamilton co-star Christopher Jackson. Gregory Diaz IV steals every scene he's in as Sonny, showing fantastic talent which surely makes him one to watch for the future.
Directed by Jon M. Chu, the cinematography on In The Heights is simply stunning with some truly beautiful and huge sequences complete with complex and flawless choreography. The sheer scale of some of the sequences is a perfect example of how a production can make the leap from stage to screen while taking advantage of the new medium. The best example of this is the brilliantly performed '96,000' which culminates with a fantastic sequence set at a pool.
Another highlight is a scene where two of the characters defy gravity (Wrong musical, sorry) on the side of a building. These key and massive moments set the tone perfectly and ensure your jaw stays dropped the whole way through. While scenes full of crowded streets may feel slightly alien to watch in this new and still weird time of social distancing, it gives the audience a much needed sense of escapism and perhaps reminds us of a time when everything was a little more care-free.
The songs featured are of a consistently high standard. Featuring a variety of styles with Latin influences and full of Miranda's signature style, there are some moments that sound very similar to songs from Hamilton but they stand up in their own right. Some of the standout songs include the opening number title track, 'Breathe' and 'Carnaval Del Barrio'. Hamilton fans should also look out for a fantastic Easter egg where a song from the show can be heard.
If you have seen the stage show before, you may be looking out for the differences - of which there are many. There was disappointment over some of the songs that were cut for the movie and certain choices that change the characters. Having not seen the show on stage before, I was viewing this through completely new eyes and adored every moment of it.
In The Heights carries with it a lot of heart. Its message of community shines through and bounces off the screen, ensuring you feel like you are right there with them. With key themes of love, loss and hope, the overarching message of this show is following your dreams. Watching the characters achieve them is the inspiration we all need after the past year. Unashamedly positive, In The Heights is guaranteed to put a huge smile on your face - and who doesn't need that right now?
Brilliantly acted by its talented cast and flawlessly filmed, the first major movie musical of the year sets the bar high for the others that follow. They'll have a tough job to match this high standard. In The Heights is charming and beautiful from start to finish - just make sure you stay until the end of the credits for something extra!
In The Heights is released in UK cinemas on Friday 18th June.
In the USA it is available to watch now on HBO Max.