Before writing Broadway juggernaut Hamilton (2015), composer and lyricist Lin Manuel Miranda had already won four Tony awards, including Best Musical and Best Score, for In The Heights (2008), a feel-good ensemble musical about how the immigrant community in New York City’s Washington Heights follow their dreams and find home.
Where this film adaptation really shines is when it couples the sparkly, sassy, Latin rhythms of the music with bleak and gritty visuals of the rundown neighbourhood and how hard life is for people there. Unfortunately, most of the movie just follows the Broadway tradition of big, cheesy dance numbers in bright, colourful lighting.
On the other hand, there is some romantic escapism that works better on film than on a Broadway stage. One is the love duet where Benny (Corey Hawkins) promises to find a way to join Nina (Leslie Grace) in Palo Alto, and the two of them dance up and down the outside brick wall of one of their apartment building against a lens flare sunset: a moment of pure, Fred Astaire magic. When the neighbourhood’s beloved abuela (Olga Merediz) is on her death bed, we enter a dream sequence where she belts her heart out about the struggles of her life, as a dance ensemble in traditional, white Cuban attire carries her in and out of New York subway trains.
Fans of the original musical are bound to enjoy this cinema treatment, with fabulous vocals, new instrumental arrangements and sound mixing. On the other hand, there has been some backlash from the Latinx community in New York and worldwide about the casting of mainly light-skinned actors, which may be one of the reasons this film has not performed as well in the cinema box office as it did in the theatre box office.
Playing cinemas everywhere.