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"In the Heights" of a Musical in Today's Society

Melody Lanei is a film and television enthusiast. She carries a BFA in Mass Media and has worked in various arenas of entertainment.

"In the Heights" Poster

"In the Heights" Poster

Let's Go To The Movies!

What a joy it is to be able to go back to the movie theaters, popcorn in lap! 2020 literally covered our laughs and smiles but there is nothing better to remind us of a good time than a trip to the movies! "In the Heights" reintroduces us [movie lovers] to the magical days of film, when adult characters sang their words, danced their emotions and weren't afraid to dream. Major film studios literally took the power of the stage and mutated it into the magic of film. Adults and children alike used to leave the theaters excited, inspired and motivated to be or do what they saw on screen. Unfortunately, in today's society, most visuals presented to us are anything but what would positively impact our lives but Quiara Algeria Hudes did an amazing job transforming Lin Manuel Miranda's popular narrative into a screen worthy performance reminding us of what it is supposed to feel like when you go to the movies. Every part of this film will have you singing and dancing, laughing and crying, but most importantly, this film will have you believing in life again. So, who wants to go to the movies?

"In the Heights" Trailer

Usnavi (Ramos) leading the block back to hope during a blackout.

Usnavi (Ramos) leading the block back to hope during a blackout.

A Snippet of Musical Film History

Films have come a mighty long way. The Hollywood we know today, with all their special effects and luxury sets, is nothing like it was in it's infancy. Once upon a time, actors didn't even speak! Subtitles were the standard; until the advent of sound technology in the 1920s. By the 30s, the elaborate musical selections and talking actors once only found on the live stage could now find themselves on the big screen. The popular 1950s musical Singing' in the Rain beautifully shows the transition in Hollywood from silent films, to talking pictures, to full blown musical masterpieces. The energy that leaps off the screen while watching a musical is unmatched. You can't get that feeling from a drama, or horror or even a comedy. The frequency that music brings to the screen is electric and the jolt is felt by every attentive audience member.

Popular Movie Musicals

1930s-1940s1950s-1960s1970s-1980s1990s-2000s2010s-2020s

Top Hat

Carmen Jones

Willie Wonka & The Chocolate Factory

Aladdin

Les Miserables

The Wizard of Oz

Guys and Dolls

The Wiz

Mulan

La La Land

Stormy Weather

West Side Story

The Blues Brothers

Moulin Rouge!

A Star is Born

The Easter Parade

The Sound of Music

Annie

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

In the Heights

The Setting

Washington Heights, a spicy neighborhood in the borough of Manhattan in New York City, is the backdrop of the musical. Narrated by the lead character Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos (Hamilton, A Star is Born), the Latinx community comes to life, introducing the audience to their cultural pride by demonstrating how they honor their history, respect their elders and ancestors all while supporting their youth. Usnavi has a dream of returning to his homeland of Dominican Republic but finds it hard to ignore the love he has for the people and neighborhood that raised him. He is surrounded by other dreamers, like his friend Benny (Cory Hawkins) who sees the need for more latino-owned businesses on the block. His young cousin Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV) has a dream of getting an education despite his undocumented status and Sonny is inspired by neighborhood influencer Nina (Leslie Grace) who was the first in her family to go to college. These characters and more all share their journey of opposition when it comes to working towards a dream.

Meet the Cast: Familiar Faces

There is so much that is comforting about this film; the mood, the music and the message. One of the go-to comforts in a film are the familiar faces and "In The Heights" definitely had their share of celebrity favorites.

Jimmy Smits

Jimmy Smits brings his Puerto Rican heritage to the role of Kevin Rosario, business owner and proud father of Nina Rosario, a Stanford attendee. He embodies the role of fatherhood in this film, doing whatever he had to do for the future of his only child. Jimmy is known for taking noble roles. He has played a lawyer on hit shows Dexter (2006) and L.A. Law (1986) and most notably known for his standing role on NYPD Blue as Detective Bobby Simone.

Dascha Polanco

Dacha Polanco was definitely a site for sore eyes as she and her two salon amigas lit up the screen with there energetic dances, colorful outfits and beautiful voices. Growing up, she doubted her ability to be successful in entertainment due to her curvy figure but it came in handy when having the opportunity to represent who she really is; a Dominican born, curvasish beauty. Polanco starred in Netflix's hit original show Orange is the New Black as Dayanara Diaz with guest spots on American Crime Story and the hit mini series When They See Us.

Our people survived slave ships. We survived Taino genocide. We survived conquistadores and dictators. You're telling me we can't survive the D Train to the Grand Concouse?

— Daniela (Daphne Rubin-Vega)

Marc Anthony

Marc Anthony is one of the most recognized Latino men in the world and knows what it's like to have to represent not just his Puerto Rican heritage, but an entire culture; and having Anthony in the movie seems to be the stamp of certification that "In The Heights" is here to help represent. In order to have Anthony in the film, his role of Usnavi's drunk uncle and Sonny's father had to be made. He drops his sex-symbol persona and dives into the grit of an immigrant man struggling to connect with his Americanized son. Oh, check him out on tour! He's back on the road!

in-the-heights-of-a-musical

THE CONFLICT

Unfortunately, the conflict doesn't always stay in the story. "In the Heights" and it's creators have been under major scrutiny for their lack of darker skinned representation in the LatinX community. Miranda has since come out and apologized for the offense via Twitter but many, including popular HBO host Bill Mahr, feels Miranda shouldn't have to apologize. Legendary Latina actress, Rita Moreno apologized via The Hollywood Reporter for her lack of sensitivity towards her Afro-LatinX brothers and sisters expressed on The Late Show when trying to come to Miranda's defense. She quickly remembered how she was asked to darken her skin for her Academy Award winning role as Anita in "West Side Story." Popular Afro-Latina artist Amara La Negra shares her opinion on the controversy and the lack of darker representation in her community.

THE FINALE

Even though it has been declared a box office miss (bringing in only $11m from their predicted $20m), I hope this quick synopsis has persuaded you to take a ride with these characters; a road trip guaranteeing a whole lot of singing, dancing and love. In the Heights is currently (and hopefully) in a theater near you and is streaming on HBOMax until July 11, 2021. Check it out! Come back, comment and let me know your perspective on the film.

© 2021 Melody Lanei

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