Before he turned a biography of the so-called “Ten-Dollar Founding Father” into the Broadway and theatrical juggernaut that is “Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda was already known for an earlier musical, one that he had been working on since 1999. Its original form was described in a university production as a “hip-hop version” of 1993 musical “Rent.” Said work was expanded and eventually became “In the Heights,” spotlighting the lives of Hispanic-American residents in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood. Efforts were made to have a film adaptation of it since it hit Broadway in 2008. The current production under Warner Bros. Pictures released the first trailer for it Thursday last week.
Entertainment Weekly tells us that the “In the Heights” musical film from Warner Bros. finally put out an initial full-length trailer on December 12, one day after a short teaser was shown by the studio. Almost immediately the preview hams up the fact that it is based on a musical with music and lyrics by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also originated the role of the narrator/main character. The second big-name draw is the director of this adaptation: Jon M. Chu, who became a superstar filmmaker by adapting “Crazy Rich Asians,” also for Warner Bros.
What probably makes this musical-to-movie adaptation works is the presence of many cast members from the former who are playing roles in the latter. Miranda himself is not playing his original role of Washington Heights bodega owner Usnavi, but he is portrayed by Anthony Ramos, who took it up in 2018 for the JFK Center run. And Lin-Manuel is also present as the Piragua guy. But the center of the story is Usnavi, his plans to return to his parent’s home country in the Dominican Republic, and how they are complicated by his relationship with salon hairstylist Vanessa, and the onset of a heat wave.
There has been quite the rise of musical films in production lately, from old classics such as Steven Spielberg’s new take on “West Side Story” for 20th Century Fox, and the extremely artsy (and divisive) Universal Pictures adaptation of “Cats” coming this Friday. “In the Heights” is a bit more contemporary that those two, as a trailer scene with a mention of “Dreamer” deportations indicates. And of course, the combination of a recently well-known and loved story with Lin-Manuel Miranda is always hard to beat.
“In the Heights” also stars Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Olga Merediz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz, Dascha Polanco, Jimmy Smits and Marc Anthony. The original musical book writer Quiara Alegría Hudes also returns to do the screenplay. The film premieres next year in June.
Image courtesy of Hollywood Reporter