“In the Heights” Review: Appease Your Musical Thirst With This Adaptation of Hamilton’s Predecessor

Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera in “In the Heights.” Photo Courtesy: Warner Bros. Pictures

Rating: 6/10

Even if you’re not a fan of musicals, you probably enjoyed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton either live in a theater or as the filmed version of the play that debuted on Disney+ last summer. I know I loved it in both instances even if I don’t particularly like it when people just break into song and dance. 

Debuting simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on June 10, 2021, In the Heights is the movie adaptation of Miranda’s first Broadway play. The show had an off-Broadway run and it debuted on Broadway in 2008, where it ran for almost 1,200 performances and earned 13 Tony nominations. Now it makes its Hollywood premiere. Unlike Hamilton, this movie isn’t a filmed version of the play but an actual adaptation. Miranda serves as producer and wrote the music and lyrics. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes (Water by the Spoonful), who penned the book of the theater version of In the Heights, takes care of the screenplay adaptation here. And Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) directs.

In the Heights tells the story of Usnavi (Hamilton’s Anthony Ramos). He’s a bodega owner in the northernmost Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights, where gentrification is creeping in and pricing out its Dominican-American community and other longtime Latino residents. Usnavi has a sueñito (little dream) of buying back his dad’s bar on the beach in the Dominican Republic, moving there and starting his labor of love instead of just surviving, as he does in New York. For Usnavi, the Caribbean country is synonymous with beach, merengue, Carnaval and summer all year round.

Miranda, who grew up in Washington Heights himself and whose dad is from Puerto Rico, wrote about the United States' inception in Hamilton. With In the Heights the author broaches his own inception but also tackles what constitutes the fabric of this country. The movie is an unapologetic tale about immigrants and their children — and their children’s children. It makes a case for them not being invisible and not being powerless.