We Partied With the In the Heights Cast and Learned New Details About the Upcoming Movie
Anthony Ramos in "In the Heights" (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)
Way uptown was the place to be on December 11, when the cast and creatives of the In the Heights film threw an exclusive party to celebrate the release of its first trailer. The second floor of Washington Heights' 809 Restaurant and Lounge was decked out in flatscreens, a purple neon sign that mimicked the film’s logo, and a pop-up bodega that contained real bananas and hot sauce. In the Heights' Tony-winning composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and film director Jon M. Chu, best known for Crazy Rich Asians, took the stage to cheers, as they told the crowd about the joyful process of making the movie, which will be released in theaters on June 26.
“It was the best summer of our lives,” Miranda enthused about filming last summer. He also appears in the movie as the Piragua Guy. (P.S. Yes, piraguas were served at the party!) “I started writing this show when I was 19 years old, six blocks away [from this event], where my parents live.” He then added, “It’s been a long road to get here.”
In the Heights won the Best Musical Tony when it first premiered on Broadway in 2008. It’s set in the Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights and tells some of the hundreds of stories of the Latinx residents who live there. The main character is a fast-talking bodega owner named Usnavi, played originally on stage by Miranda.
Chu said that when he first saw the musical, “It reminded me of my family. I grew up in an immigrant family. The fight to survive, the fight to dream, the right to dream—to me that was everything, it was instilled in me. That’s the American story.” He then noted, to audience laughter and a blushing Miranda, “I know everyone’s very jealous that I got to work with our Shakespeare of his time.”
The entire principal cast of the film was also on stage to share their experiences. Anthony Ramos, who was in the original cast of Hamilton and plays Usnavi in the film, told the crowd that he didn’t feel any pressure in taking over the role. What he did feel was “a huge responsibility.”
"The fact that Lin trusted me with this role means more, it means more than what you’ll ever know, bro,” Ramos said to Miranda. He recalled how he first saw In the Heights when he was in college and considering quitting acting. “It was the first time I saw a show were I was like, I relate to these characters.” He especially saw himself in Usnavi: “He has big dreams, and he feels like he’s in this box and he doesn’t know how to get out. His dreams are so big that he’s so scared. And I said, ‘I relate to that guy.’ There’s so many people that have told me no, so many reasons why I shouldn’t be up here, bro. So many reasons why we all shouldn’t be up here. But we’re here.”
Afterward, as the cast and crew mingled and took selfies with invited guests, we found out more details about the upcoming film. Miranda said the In the Heights stage ensemble were asked to add vocals to the film, and they rehearsed at 37 Arts, where the musical first premiered off-Broadway in 2007.
Meanwhile, scribe Quiara Alegría Hudes, who was Tony-nominated for writing the book for In the Heights, told us about a new subplot she added to the movie, in which a character is revealed to be an undocumented immigrant. Thus, the movie trailer contains the line: “They’re talking about kicking out all the Dreamers." There's also a flash of a scene featuring protestors holding up signs that say, “Immigrant rights are human rights.” That detail was not part of the original musical. “It’s a surprise in the movie, so I don’t want to spoil anything,” Hudes said elliptically about the new storyline. “The movie gave me an opportunity to explore some things I didn’t get the chance to the first time around, so I really wanted to take advantage of that.” Hudes did say it’s not Usnavi, and that the story change was inspired by the current administration’s treatment of immigrants.
But that’s not the only storyline that’s been added to the movie. Daphne Rubin-Vega, who plays beauty salon owner Daniela, said: “Carla and I are girlfriends; we’re partners.” Carla also works at the salon and is played in the film by Stephanie Beatriz. Rubin-Vega wasn’t sure if that detail is in the final cut of the movie but, “We cohabitate, it’s safe to say.”
When we asked Chu about how overt that relationship is, he exclaimed with a laugh, “We’re doubling and tripling down on that!” He also clarified that the story changes were made to add more diversity to the movie, in terms of representation and also the issues affecting the community today. “Art is made in the time it’s supposed to be made,” he told us. “It just had a long journey, 10-11 years, and this was the right time. This is the moment when being American is being questioned, the American dream is being questioned. This is not a political movie in any way. This is about joy and community.”