Saturday 12 June 2021

Blogjune Day 12 - Lights up on Washington Heights...

Last night, I went to a special preview screening of In the Heights - the film adaptation of Lin Manuel Miranda's first Broadway musical which won four Tony Awards in 2008.

It's been a long time coming, with the cinematic release delayed a year due to COVID-19. You can watch the opening number below...

So, what did I think of it?

There's always a lot of risk when it comes to adapting a hit Broadway musical to film, from Les Miserables to Cats. Incidentally both of those films was directed by Tom Hooper - one was epic and yet forgettable, and the other you can never unsee.

The first thing to know about In the Heights is that this is an adaptation - not a frame-for-frame remake. Which makes sense, since film is a completely different medium to stage. The big scenes are so much bigger, and the intimate scenes are much more nuanced. This film takes every opportunity to make the most of the medium - from the huge elaborate dance scenes filmed on location, to scenes in Abuela Claudia's kitchen, where you could almost smell every delicious dish being cooked.

As an adaptation, things have changed. Characters are fleshed out, and the sequence of events have changed. Some songs and plotlines are cut, whilst other more timely issues, such as racism and immigration, are more prominent. This felt like an organic progression to the work, perhaps cutting some of the weaker elements of the source material, and taking the opportunity to bring more depth and meaning to the characters and the film's ending.

And yes, they changed the ending. To be honest, I think it works so much better - as touching and emotional as the stage version's ending is, this brings a sense of joy and closure to the suenito (little dream) of the central characters.

The cast is an absolutely joy to watch. Anthony Ramos is a star as Usnavi - perhaps a bit too cool and charismatic compared to the passionate-yet-awkward energy that Lin Manuel Miranda brought in originating the role, but still very fitting in the role. Daphne Rubin-Vega - yes, that's Mimi from Rent - is phenominal as Daniela, as is Olga Merediz, who originated the role of Abuela Claudia and whose song 'Paciencia Y Fe' is a haunting and memorable swan song. Jimmy Smits is surprisingly good as Kevin Rosario. And there's a whole supporting cast of young up and coming stars that you should keep an eye out for. Finally, yes, Lin Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson (the original Usnavi and Benny) both feature as rival street vendors. Be sure to stick around to the end of the credits.

Visually, this is where the film really shines. You might know the director John M. Chu for making Crazy Rich Asians,  but it's his work on the Step Up franchise that comes through with the block-party-scale dance routines. The dancing is big - and I thought I knew a bit about salsa dancing, but the scene in the salsa club takes it to the next level. It's energic, raw, authentic - and these people can move.

The soundtrack is also amazing. Before the film, there was a trailer for Dear Evan Hansen, which felt a little overproduced, with not-very-subtle autotuning. However, the sound is very well done here - with some very clever moments, such as the subito piano toward the climax of '96,000' using an underwater shot. And not even an inkling that any of the vocals had been manipulated. Every song is an absolute banger, and I came out of the cinema wanting to play the soundtrack straight away.

Anyway, as you can tell, I loved it. 

If you get a chance, go see it on the big screen, the way it was clearly meant to be seen.

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