2021 has been the year of the musical. Whether it was Encanto, Vivo, tick…tick…BOOM, Annette, Cyrano, West Side Story, and many more, audiences have experienced a resurgence of the once staple genre of Hollywood. But for many, including myself, the musical that still stands out over the rest this year came out during the summer, Warner Bros’ In the Heights.
Based on the Broadway hit musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the film is set over the course of a couple of days in the mostly Latinx based neighborhood of Washington Heights, where people are navigating the modern world and fight to obtain their sueñitos, their little dreams that will change their lives forever. With this, we many follow Usnavi, played by recent Golden Globe nominee Anthony Ramos, is saving enough money to go back to his home in the Dominican Republic and start fresh. But leaving isn’t easy when the community he is in, surrounded by family and friends, rely on him to move forward as much as he needs them.
With awe-inspiring choreography, impeccable performances by this talented ensemble, and lavish cinematography by Alice Brooks, In the Heights provides wonder not found in many modern musicals today. In large part, this has to do with the direction of Jon M. Chu, whose vibrant energy and passion for musicals comes through in almost every moment we see in the film. Chu, known for starting his career making dance movies with Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D, followed by blockbuster sequels with G.I Joe: Retaliation and Now You See Me 2, he found his biggest success in the 2018 worldwide smash hit, Crazy Rich Asians. With that film he not only made the highest grossing romantic comedy of the 2010s, but landed major awards nominations including a SAG Ensemble, thus making a commercial, celebrated film that all audiences can enjoy while given a vehicle for Asian actors to be seen by audiences in a light that they hadn’t been seen since The Joy Luck Club. Therefore, when it was announced he was attached to In the Heights, it made all sense in the world that he would carry his sincere, detailed approach over to this mostly Latinx, yet universal story.
In a recent conversation with Chu, I talked to him about his passion for the project, his love of the genre, what he carried from making the film’s extravagant musical numbers like “96000,” and what he has learned, good and bad, from his experience post the film’s release. With his schedule getting bigger by the day as he starts preparations adaptation of the film version of the monumental musical sensation, Wicked, it was nice to sit down and speak with Mr. Chu about his process and passion to tell diverse stories. His affection for this world and time with Miranda, Ramos, the rest of the cast, and crew still shows in how he speaks, displaying the same feeling the audience has when watching his film, that of an unforgettable experience.
In the Heights is available to stream on HBO Max, as well as to own or rent on Blu-ray and all VOD platforms.