“In the Heights” The Story of Dreamers

“In the Heights,” the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit Broadway show has come to the big screen. Long before “Hamilton,” “In the Heights ” opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2008. Now, it’s the movie of the summer. 

VALLEY was able to attend a roundtable for college journalists, hosted by Warner Bros, and ask questions to eight members of the cast as well as Miranda and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes.

This movie, at its core, is a story about dreamers. It follows the little dreams, or “sueñitos,” of its characters and how seemingly simple paths of life can derail or encourage those dreams. Usnavi, the teller of this story, shares the dreams of his found family in the neighborhood of Washington Heights and reinforces the idea that dreams can change but if you’re patient, that new dream can be exactly what you always wanted. 

“Sueñito, it means little dream.” -Usnavi

The characters that this movie follows try to navigate their own dreams and desires, while also attempting to keep the culture driven legacy of their community alive. The story is told through a vivacious Latin hip-hop score that also holds some tear-jerking moments and carries the voice of an entire culture waiting to be heard. 

Miranda returned to assist in making the musical fit for the screen: writing new songs, helping with the script and even cameoing in the movie as the Piragua Guy. Quiara Alegría Hudes, who was a part of creating the original production, also returned to pen the screenplay.

Photo from: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
(L-r) Concept/music & lyrics/producer LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA and QUIARA ALEGRÍA HUDES on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

While most of the plot was kept the same (you’re welcome diehard fans of the original musical), she also incorporated a timely flare into the film. The importance of DACA and the harsh reality of being an immigrant without a visa are much more prominent within the film version. 

In the interview, Miranda spoke about how his own personal history is reflected within this story. Miranda discussed how his parents and Nina’s father shared in the same struggles as immigrants to the United States. They both “came from somewhere else, and made a way where there was no way,” says Miranda. 

The other cast members also reiterated how important the messages within this movie are to what is going on in the world today. Not only wanting the stories of Latin American people to be heard, but the stories of the other minorities in the world. 

Jimmy Smits — who plays Nina’s father, Kevin Rosario — stressed that “In the Heights” relates to stories and themes that people are now ready to understand and face head on. 

“Coming through this pandemic and having to reckon with not only health issues, but a lot of social issues, whether it’s LGBTQ or immigration or BLM. I hope that those universal themes are going to resonate with audiences in the delivery system of a musical, which is all about joy and a very specific lens,” says Smits. 

Bringing immigrant’s stories to life is nothing short of a dream come true for the cast. Being able to channel their own personal stories through their characters is something they cherished. 

Dascha Polanco — who plays Cuca, one of the salon ladies — brought up the importance and need for stories like this and the clear lack of them in the entertainment industry. “It goes to show this can work. These stories do work,” she says. “There’s a yearn for it, and a need and necessity so it’s so necessary right now. So the question is, when’s the next?”

Photo from: Macall Polay © 2019 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.
(L-r) COREY HAWKINS as Benny and LESLIE GRACE as Nina in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Corey Hawkins — who plays Benny —  said it perfectly when talking about a musical number his character and his love interest Nina have. They create a beautiful and powerful spectacle as their characters defy gravity and use the sides of buildings as a dance floor. 

“If they want to defy gravity and change the rules then they can do that, and so can you,” Hawkins says. 

What it all comes down to is sueñitos. The dreams of those in the Latin American community finally have their story told. The dreams of people of color finally see themselves on the big screen, bringing awareness to the struggles they face every day. The dreams of one young man trying to tell his story and express that home can be anywhere that you can be yourself. 

“In the Heights” will be released in theaters on June 10 and will be streaming exclusively on HBO Max for 30 days.

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