In the Heights
This long-gestating adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s upper Manhattan-set musical eschews some of the knottier subject matter and ambiguity of the original stage version, but more or less makes up for it with block-rocking gusto and summery joie de vie.
A slightly syrupy framing device, added for the film, has young Dominican-American Usnavi (a charismatic turn from Ramos) relating the story of his Upper Manhattan neighbourhood and the lives and loves of its diverse Latino locals to a bunch of cute kids on some unnamed idyllic sandy beach.
Cut to the main story where Usnavi is running a convenience store in Washington Heights assisted by his younger cousin Sonny (the excellent Diaz IV). Usnavi dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic and opening a bar. Also in the mix is the local abuela Claudia (Merediz), an elderly single woman and adoptive matriarch to the disparate community; taxi service owner Kevin Rosario (Smits) who is struggling financially to put his daughter Nina (Grace) through snooty Ivy League college; Nina’s ex-boyfriend Benny (Hawkins) who let her go so she could move up in the world; and wannabe fashion designer Vanessa (Barrera) who Usnavi has a crush on.
The two musical standouts are ‘96,000’, a public pool-set extravaganza, which plays like barrio Busby Berkeley meets Esther Williams, where the characters speculate on what they would do if they won the titular amount in the lottery; and ‘When the Sun Goes Down’ a wondrous gravity-defying and vertiginous duet on the side of building between old sweethearts Nina and Benny.
There’s some cute musical in-jokes here too: a blast of Duke Ellington sounds out when a character mentions the A Train, and a frustrated caller placed on hold is tormented by an easy listening version of a ‘Hamilton’ tune.
Multi-hyphenate Miranda, who played Usnavi in the original show, cameos as the irrepressible local ice drinks cart merchant.
In the Heights is released on 18th June
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