Years before “Hamilton” became a global phenomenon, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a little show about his childhood neighborhood and its colorful residents, “In the Heights.”
Miranda wrote the first draft of the show while he was an undergrad in the late ‘90s and went on to develop it with director Thomas Kail and playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes. It had a successful Off-Broadway debut in 2007, transferring to Broadway the following year and winning four Tony Awards, including best musical and best original score for Miranda.
After being postponed by the pandemic, the film adaptation helmed by director Jon Chu (“Crazy Rich Asians”) is finally coming to theaters and streaming services on June 11.
Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), named after the U.S. Navy ship his immigrant parents first encountered entering New York harbor, is a bodega owner who looks after the Cuban abuela (Olga Merediz) next door and pines for Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), the girl who works in the neighboring beauty salon. He dreams of winning the lottery and escaping to the shores of his native Dominican Republic.
Meanwhile, Nina (Leslie Grace), a childhood friend, has returned to the neighborhood from her first year at Stanford with surprising news for her father (Jimmy Smits), who has spent his life savings on building a better life for her.
Ultimately, Usnavi and the residents of the close-knit neighborhood realize their dreams are right there in their home.
If Miranda’s signature rap, hip-hop and salsa-infused score remains, it’s Chu’s exuberant production numbers that make a good Broadway musical into an exceptional film experience. The opening eight-minute sequence not only introduces each of the characters, it builds as the diverse cultures of the neighborhood are layered on like rich tres leches.
And then there is the splashy, yet distinctly Latin homage to Busby Berkley at Highbridge Pool after the discovery that a winning lottery ticket was sold at Usnavi’s bodega.
While “Hamilton” remains Miranda’s crowning achievement (at least to date), this film cements “In the Heights” as one of the greats of contemporary American musical theater.
In “In the Heights,” Miranda and Chu celebrate those Latina icons known simply as “Chita, Rita and Celia.” But Miranda went one step further as an executive producer of a new documentary opening June 18, “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It.”
Over a 70+ year career, Rita Moreno defied both her humble upbringing and relentless racism to become a celebrated and beloved actor, one of the rare EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) Award winners.
Born into poverty on a Puerto Rican farm, Moreno and her seamstress mother immigrated to New York City when Moreno was 5 years old. After studying dance and performing on Broadway, Moreno was cast as any ethnic minority the Hollywood studios needed filled, be it Polynesian, Native American or Egyptian.
Despite becoming the first Latina actress to win an Academy Award for her role as Anita in “West Side Story” (1961), the studios continued to offer Moreno lesser roles as stereotypical ethnic minorities, ignoring her proven talent.
Featuring interviews with Gloria Estefan, Morgan Freeman, Mitzi Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, Norman Lear, Eva Longoria, Terrence McNally and Miranda, this engaging film illuminates the humor and the grace of Moreno, as well as lesser-known struggles faced on her path to stardom, including pernicious Hollywood sexism and abuse, a toxic relationship with Marlon Brando, and serious depression a year before she emerged an Oscar winner.
Moreno’s talent and resilience triumphed over adversity, as she broke barriers, fought for representation and forged the path for new generations of artists.
Check local listings for theaters and showtimes.