At Z Movies

The Big Screen Is Back and Oh What Heights They’ll Hit!

What better way to celebrate the return of movie theaters and the Great White Way than the screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning In the Heights?

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in the film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights. (Promotional photo)

Alexandria, VA – It’s been over a year with theaters dark. What better way to celebrate the return of movie theaters and the Great White Way than the screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning In the Heights? Originally scheduled to open June 26, 2020, the release was formally delayed a year (pandemic, you know) to this June 18.

But due to overwhelming public praise following the trailer drop in March, director Jon M. Chu gleefully announced the new one-week sooner-than-later release date of June 11.

In the Heights, Lin-Manuel’s 2008 hit Broadway production preceding Hamilton earned 13 Tony nominations with four wins, including Best Musical. The setting is the Washington Heights neighborhood in Manhattan’s predominantly Dominican way upper west side over three summer days during a blackout.

Think West Side Story meets Hamilton complemented by the opulence of Crazy Rich Asians and you’ll be eager to view this film without a thing about the plot. The wounds and blows throughout In the Heights aren’t dealt by fists or knives, dueling pistols or cannon fire, but routine life occurrences battling for acceptance, love, and a better way of life. There is heartbreak. There is star-crossed love. There is operatic betrayal and misunderstanding. And there is dance! Fabulous, get-on-your-feet dancing.

The original music and lyrics of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway production are reprised in collaboration with Quiara Alegria Hudes, who wrote the playbook, provided the screenplay, and produced with Miranda. The screen adaptation doesn’t deviate far from the theatrical production.

The cast is something of a Hamilton/Heights reunion with Anthony Ramos staring as Usnavi de la Vega (the role originated by Lin-Manuel), Miranda as Mr. Piragüero, Vanessa Hudgins as Gigi, and a cameo by Christopher Jackson. It’s nice to see Jimmy Smits back on the screen—big or small—as Kevin Rosario. Marc Anthony makes a no-longer-a-surprise appearance as Mr. De La Vega, complementing a cast of hundreds.

A scene from In the Heights, filmed on location in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. (Promotional photo)

The film was shot in Z Heights, giving it an authentic, in-the-moment feel. You can feel the heat. In New York’s Hispanic neighborhoods, especially in summer, there is a palpable fiesta feeling all around. The colors are brighter. The pace is more light-footed. The scents and sounds are vibrant, exotic, seductive. The vitality of music and rhythm is in the air.

In the hands of Jon M. Chu, this party is just getting started. Then the lights go out. And the dreams begin. Usnavi, a first-generation New York bodega owner, longs to return to his roots in the Dominican Republic. Kevin’s car service is a going concern but not fulfilling. Nina’s summer break from Stanford proves not to be what she expected. Lives and loves are derailed. And unpredictably, they change track. Mostly.

Dream chasing is an imperative for these DREAMers. It’s a mandate to envision a better life, an ideal world. To be successful is to be seen. To be real. “On these blocks, you can’t walk two steps without running into someone’s big plans.”

The long-awaited In the Heights drops on HBO Max and screens in area theaters June 11! (Promotional photo)

Absolutely plan to see In the Heights. In theaters and streaming on HBO Max. You’ll want to dance. To raise your voices. So make a little noise tonight. Make a little joy tonight. It’s summertime in the city. And…the movies are baaaaaack!

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Kelly MacConomy

Kelly MacConomy is the Arts Editor for The Zebra Press.

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