Arts & Leisure

High honors for “In the Heights”



COREY HAWKINS and Leslie Grace in “In the Heights.”

By Jim Tortolano

As most people know, before Lin-Manuel Miranda made the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury famous with the hip-hop musical “Hamilton,” the playwright made a big splash on Broadway with “In the Heights,” a musical drama about life in a working class immigrant neighborhood of New York City.

Although “Hamilton” made its author an international celebrity, the new motion picture version of the earlier work is every bit as praiseworthy as its more famous cousin.

“In the Heights” is a visually stunning, musically fascinating tale about the Washington Heights district of the Big Apple. Although it centers on the dreams, disappointments and eventual triumph of people who came to the metropolis from all parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, it is still essentially an American film. It touches eloquently on the promise of the lady in the harbor, offering hope to people yearning to breathe free.

The excellent leads are two couples – Anthony Ramos as Usnavi and Melissa Barrera as Vanessa Morales; Corey Hawkins as Benny and Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario – who grapple with the pulls of community and ambitions for broader horizons.

Just as important to the story is Olga Merediz as “Abuela” (grandmother) Claudia, who is a benevolent matriarch to a neighborhood in which people from Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, etc. have gathered to pursue their own version of the American dream: wealth, freedom, creativity and love.

Without getting into the separate plot lines, just know this play reveals adroitly the opportunities and obstacles they and others face. The cinematography is gorgeous and colorful; the music by Miranda, Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman contagious and the screenplay by Quiara Alegria Hudes thoughtful and amusing. Jon Chu directed.

Without big-name stars, and coming at the beginning of the re-opening of cinemas, “Heights” may have trouble finding its audience. It does run a trifle long, but it’s a seamlessly satisfying homage to urban “home towns” and the persistent appeal that draws people to these shores for a second chance and a better life.

“In the Heights” is rated PG-13 for some language and suggestive references.



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