The long-awaited trailer for In the Heights, the first screen adaptation of a Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, has arrived, and there’s enough dazzling spectacle and delicate detail to suggest that Steven Spielberg, whose West Side Story is due out a few months after Heights’ summer 2020 release, has his work cut out for him. Unveiled in (where else) Manhattan’s Washington Heights at an event with the movie’s cast and crew on Wednesday night, the trailer shows the film’s principal cast, which includes Anthony Ramos, Melissa Barrera, Corey Hawkins, Leslie Grace, Dascha Polanco, Stephanie Beatriz, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Olga Merediz, and Jimmy Smits. Miranda himself shows up, too, although he’s ceded the lead to his Hamilton castmate Ramos and stepped into the role of the piragua guy (don’t let the beard throw you off).
The unveiling was, not surprisingly, an emotional affair, with the largely Latinx cast focusing on the importance of seeing themselves reflected on the big screen, and not in a story focused on weeping and “trauma porn” but on community and joy. Polanco, who with Beatriz and Rubin-Vega makes up the Greek chorus of “salon ladies,” was a boisterous presence for most of the night but couldn’t hold back tears when talk turned to the importance of taking on the role of In the Heights’ Cuca.
Although Merediz is the only cast member reprising her role from the theatrical production, the movie’s cast is full of In the Heights fanboys and -girls; Barrera claimed to have seen it 15 times, and Smits liked the original production so much that he offered to provide narration for the Broadway trailer in exchange for a pair of house seats. Ramos recalled a moment when he was on the verge of quitting acting but accepted a free ticket toward the end of the musical’s run, and for the first time, he came out of the theater thinking, “I don’t relate to these characters. I know them.”
The movie, of course, will take the story of Usvani, Vanessa, and the rest far away from Washington Heights, to audiences who’d never have a chance to see a Broadway show, and it certainly seems as if Chu has leaned into the opportunity to add big-screen spectacle. A Busby Berkeley–style number shot at the Highbridge Pool brings Chu back to the Step Up movies that started his career, but with budgetary resources more in line with his Crazy Rich Asians.
And there are hints that Miranda and writer Quiara Alegría Hudes have beefed up the show’s politics as well, at least if trailer’s line about how “they’re kicking out all the Dreamers” is any indication. Miranda said last year it was far too early to write a musical about Donald Trump—he long since changed the lyric about playing golf with him—but a story about Latinx immigrants living (and dying) for their dreams that took over a decade to reach the screen seems to have found the perfect moment to raise its voice.
Written by Sam Adams