Jon M. Chu’s musical follow-up to CRAZY RICH ASIANS now out on Blu-ray and 4K from Warner Brothers
Bodega owner Usnavi (Anthony Ramos, Hamilton) welcomes the viewer to Washington Heights in the joyous, vibrant, yet thoughtful film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda’s first musical, In the Heights. Usnavi employs his teen cousin and dreams of going back to the Dominican Republic and re-opening his dad’s old bar there. He also crushes hard on Vanessa (Melissa Barrera, Vida on Starz), who works at a neighborhood salon and wants to be a fashion designer. His friend Benny (Corey Hawkins, Straight Outta Compton) is a taxi dispatcher whose ex Nina (Leslie Grace) has come home after her first year at Stanford.
There’s a large cast of characters as the scope of the musical covers the neighborhood and the family Usnavi and his neighbors have made for themselves. Matriarch Abuela Claudia is the role Olga Merediz originated on Broadway and to which she thankfully returns here. Merediz’s performance of “Paciencia y Fe,” Claudia’s ballad of memory and home, is an absolute miracle, a stunning moment of utter perfection — the staging, choreography and direction also factor into this.
The choreography for In the Heights impresses throughout, from dancing hands in “No Me Diga” showing off manicures to the hundreds of dancers showing off moves at a public pool in “96,000.” The music is more of a mixed bag, especially as one or two of the actors don’t have strong singing voices. Nevertheless, the harmonies in “Alabanza” still give me chills.
This film adaptation for In the Heights has a few updates to the original theatrical story — a mother who had her own song is dead in this version and another character is now undocumented — but since original author Quiara Alegría Hudes adapted the screenplay, the spirit of the musical remains the same. The neighborhood is still gentrifying, and each character has a distinct identity and dream. It’s something of a thrill to see this color-filled musical, with such an inclusive cast, on screen at this moment in our nation’s time.
Special features on the Blu-ray release of In the Heights include:
- two “singalong” tracks: “In the Heights” and “96,000”
- around 43 minutes of behind-the-scenes shorts, Paciencia y Fe, delving deeper into different aspects of the production. They include scenes from the table read and discussion of the casting process. DP Alice Brooks talks about how the cinematography aimed to “let Washington Heights shine through the movie.” “Wepa!”, the short delving into the dance influences and the interviews with the various associate choreographers, is a particular standout. I can’t recall another production where I was able to hear from so much of a choreography team. In “That Music in the Air,” Olga Merediz brings her original notes from the Broadway show to her studio recording for the film.
- a breakout menu of the musical numbers
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