When I first caught wind of the film adaptation of In the Heights in early January, I was thrilled to be entertained by another Lin-Manuel Miranda musical. Watching trailers and clips before watching In the Heights itself, I was excited but unsure if it could compare to Hamilton. However, I was pleasantly surprised.
In the Heights holds the plot depth and realism that Hamilton fans know and love. Each character in the musical has a personal backstory and is filled with dreams and aspirations, making them relatable and admirable. By including Hamilton and other musical easter eggs, and purchasing the casts' wardrobes from actual stores in Washington Heights, In the Heights presents the attention to detail that many modern-day musicals, movies and TV shows in general lack.
In addition to the well-written plot, the soundtrack ties the performance together in a nice bow. Lin-Manuel Miranda keeps the viewer captivated by including various music styles such as rap, hip-hop, salsa, samba, merengue and traditional musical theatre style. Visually, the choreography styles presented in the musical include lite feet (a street style from Harlem that emerged in the early 2000s), mambo, ballet, acrobatic and contemporary. These have a powerful impact on the soundtrack.
In the Heights is a unique musical, especially since it is rich in its positive representation of Latino culture. Typically, modern-day television depicts Dominican, Puerto-Rican and Cuban-American people negatively, refraining from casting them as dreamers or lovers, as seen in In the Heights. For example, in the scene in an alleyway in Washington Heights where the cast performs the song "Carnaval del Barrio," the characters present Mexican, Cuban, Puerto Rican and Dominican flags. Although this scene serves as a poignant display of each cast member's cultural pride, it also displays the severe lack of representation of the Afro-Latino community in the film. This issue has been addressed by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself, as he stated, "In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I'm truly sorry." Without adequate representation of the Afro-Latino community, the musical misses a chance to celebrate the whole spectrum of the Latino community.
From the diversity in music and dance styles to the intricate plot and talented cast, In the Heights is a musical that will be remembered by all who watch it. I believe that In the Heights will help change not only who is cast for what role in Hollywood in the coming years but also society's perception of and appreciation for the Latino community.
By Hadleigh John, Contributing Writer