If you still need a reason to get HBO Max, it’s “In the Heights.”
Better yet, if you need a reason to go back to a theater – big screen, booming speakers, abundant popcorn – that’s also “In the Heights.”
The movie (shown here) landed on both sites Friday (June 11), helping us bust loose from our 15-month doldrums.
It’s all the things we expected – a festive treat, filled with spectacular sights and sounds. But the surprise is that it also packs deep emotion … and that this musical – which began try-outs 16 years ago – seems to perfectly fit right now, as Americans emerge from an anti-immigrant phase.
Lin-Manuel Miranda, with Puerto Rican roots, celebrated the impact of immigrants. His musical is a love letter to the Washington Heights neighborhood and the people – Latinx, mostly – who live there.
One brilliant number features the neighborhood matriarch (Olga Merediz, a Tony-nominee in the Broadway production),recalling the agony of immigrating with her mother in the 1940s. Mostly, though, “Heights” is about the people a couple generations later.
Our guide – both as narrator and central character – is Usnavi – pushing 30, running the store his parents started, but dreaming of returning to the Dominican Republic. Miranda did the role on Broadway, but now it’s filled perfectly by Anthony Ramos, who starred in a revival.
A few familiar faces are scattered around the edges. That includes Miranda (as a biking peddler), Jimmy Smits and Marc Anthony. But mostly, this is a young-folks story.
The cast is both gifted and gorgeous – especially the female leads, who are semi-known. Melissa Barrera (shown here with Ramos) plays Vanessa; she starred in the cable series “Vida.” Leslie Grace plays Nina; she’s a singer/songwriter.
They are encased in great visuals. “Heights” is directed by John Chu, who did the beautiful “Crazy Rich Asians”; it’s choreographed by Christopher Scott, who did two “Step Up” films.
Scott has great scenes with nods to the past. A swimming-pool number feels like Busby Berkeley meets Esther Williams; another – dancing up and down an apartment building – is sheer Gene Kelly.
But those gimmicks are just a bonus. The other numbers – on the streets, in a ballroom – feel vibrant and unforced. This is choreography that doesn’t feel choreographed.
For all of its fun, “Heights” has the ability to be deeply moving. There is one moment when all the noise suddenly stops; we feel the silence and the emotion.
There are storylines we care about. Miranda updated this slightly, with nods to DACA, the “dreamers” program for undocumented youths. That adds relevancy – but “Heights” already had plenty of it. Elsewhere, we might see rage toward immigrants. Here, they are people we root for and cheer with.