There is no doubting Lin Manuel Miranda’s musical creativity, which soared to new heights after his stage musical Hamilton blew away all those that saw it. Again based on his own stage musical and directed by Crazy Rich Asians’ John M Chu, his latest creation In The Heights transforms the streets of Washington Heights in Manhattan into a vibrant Latinx community with nothing but dreams, optimism, and a feel-good party atmosphere.
There are no airs and graces or a complex, convoluted storyline with this one; it is a simple ode to the family community spirit amongst the Latin community. This community has often been portrayed as gangland thugs or street corner hoes, here they are finally being given an all-singing, all-dancing positive role. Despite the raw deal they are constantly given and the overwhleming adversity of their lives, they still keep on dreaming for bigger and better lives with the sunniest attitude that rarely holds any animosity.
The central character to this story is Anthony Ramos’ Usnavi, a young bodega owner who dreams of one day selling up and moving to the Dominican Republic to open a beach-side bar. His love interest lies just across the street in beauty store technician Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) who has her own dreams of becoming a fashion designer, Usnavi’s only problem is; he’s too shy to even make the first move.
When Nina (Leslie Grace), the prodigal daughter of the owner of the local cab company Kevin (Jimmy Smits), returns home from Stanford, the whole community come out to give her a hero’s welcome, but unbeknownst to them, Nina isn’t happy at University due to the racism she has had to endure. Being home gives her a sense of belonging, none more so when her ex Benny (Corey Hawkins) reveals he is still in love with her. Despite a few family squabbles here and there, this community is filled with nothing but love held together by the beloved Abuela (Olga Merediz).
As the story builds in its countdown to the infamous blackout of Washington Heights, so does the soaring heat, a heat that brings the passion and dance sequences that could easily be compared to West Side Story and a poolside frolic to the momentous opening scene of La La Land. John M. Chu has stuck firmly to his word, go big or go home and he has, in no uncertain terms, done just that in celebrating this community.
Miranda, Chu and the charmingly talented cast uplift the spirits, pulling us out the dreary past year with a joyous and dazzling summer vibe interlaced with foot-stomping Broadway tunes with a modern twist we could all take a lesson or two from.