#AdventwithClowns Day 1: In the Heights (2021)

This Advent I am going to try to showcase some of the online theatre content that’s still available, particularly now as Omicron approaches, starting with the film version of In the Heights

“That’s señorita to you”

Whilst fully appreciating the concerns raised at the lack of Black Latinx representation in a film set in a New York neighbourhood where they make up a substantial proportion of the population, it does feel a bit of a shame that so much of the discourse around In the Heights focused on it, possibly to the detriment of its box office. When there’s so little representation available from Hollywood studios, you want something like this to succeed regardless but with that representation at a premium, it’s no wonder that those who are still left out want to make their voices heard.

These problems around colorism aside, Jon M Chu’s film of Quiara Alegría Hudes and Lin Manuel Miranda’s 2005 musical remains a fairly curious choice for adaptation. The story isn’t one of the conventional narrative arc, it really is more of a feeling, a mood, a slice of life from the predominantly Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. We follow a whole range of characters as they follow their dreams, no matter how big or small, from life-changing decisions to getting an ice-cold drink to ease a heatwave but the focus is on the micro-, offering a warm personal hug.

And as such, I think it works. Christopher Scott’s vibrantly expressive choreography brings up some seriously impressive set pieces which sweep up the whole neighbourhood in the dance. And that’s the kind of warmth that the film exudes. Anthony Ramos leads the ensemble as the charismatic Usnavi, torn between dreams of opening a bar back in DR and the enchanting charms of Melissa Barrera’s Vanessa. Fans of the musical might be surprised that the accompanying relationship between Stanford student Nina and her ex Benny is reduced to B-plot status but it is still given life by Leslie Grace and Corey Hawkins.

The songlist has been trimmed down (‘Sunrise’ and ‘Everything I Know’ were missed by me) and if Miranda’s score isn’t as immediately punchy as, say, Hamilton, for my money it is a more sensuously seductive set of tunes that insinuate their way into your mind. Olga Merediz’s Abuela is natually the star of the show, grounding flights of fancy in real emotion but also daring us to dream.

In the Heights is available to stream on Amazon Prime

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *