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The Dazzling ‘In the Heights’ May Be the Best Movie Musical in Decades

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In the Heights may be the greatest movie musical in decades—so it is staggering to realize that it is actually adapted from the second-most famous thing Lin-Manuel Miranda created.

The Hamilton multihyphenate (writer, star, Pulitzer Prize-winner, cultural ubique) first broke big on Broadway with his 2008 Tony-winning musical In the Heights. It heralded Miranda as a mold-shattering Broadway bard, a fresh talent who has helped usher in a mainstream boom in musical theater.

A big test of just how big that boom could be comes this weekend when the big-screen adaptation of In the Heights, directed by Crazy Rich Asians’ Jon M. Chu, hits theaters and streams on HBO Max.

The reviews have been rapturous, and if word of mouth doesn’t turn this movie into a blockbuster hit, I will have lost all faith in the moviegoing public. In fact, the buzz surrounding the film is so good and its vision is so specific that it’s tempting to wonder if it might earn all-time status as far as movie musicals go. In an age exhausted from internet hyperbole, that may actually be a reasonable leap.

Unlike Hamilton, so transcendent on stage that a straightforward filming of the original Broadway cast was sufficient to keep its superfans “satisfied,” the cinematic adaptation of In the Heights excavates new treasures from the already ebullient production.

Chu’s vivacious staging of the musical numbers throughout New York City manages that magical thing of transporting you to another world while harnessing so much familiar emotion that you never feel closer to home. The surrealism whisks you away, but you’re never far from the feelings and relationships that pulse through the universe you know—all while shining a radiant spotlight on a community you might not.

The show’s score is its own ecstatic adrenaline shot. There are earworms that could double as self-refilling serotonin boosters, while other songs are heart-splitting epiphanies about love, grief, community, and pride. In this movie treatment, they all wash over you, and then into you. There’s no rival to the full-body sensory experience of a live musical, which makes it all the more remarkable when a creative team is able to not just mimic that, but enrich it on screen.

The story centers around Usnavi, in a performance from lead Anthony Ramos that isn’t so much starmaking as it is a showcase for his constellation of talents. He raps, he sings, he dances. He’s........

© The Daily Beast

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