Director Jon M. Chu's adaptation of Miranda's first deeply personal Broadway musical is a jubilant, powerful tribute to the robust lives, loves, and dreams of a beloved neighborhood. Hamilton veteran Ramos is brilliantly cast as Usnavi (a role Miranda originated on Broadway), who's torn between fulfilling his father's dreams in the Dominican Republic and continuing to build a life in the United States. The entire ensemble is wonderful, from the young Diaz as Usnavi's clever cousin to the gorgeous, talented Barrera as Vanessa. Hawkins and Grace share a striking chemistry as former couple with lingering feelings Benny and Nina; Grace, in particular, authentically conveys the struggles of first-generation college students who attend elite institutions. Nina's first song, "Breathe," is a touching commentary on the burden of being the "star" who's supposed to make it big. The cast benefits tremendously from the presence of Merediz as Abuela Claudia, a character it's difficult to imagine anyone else playing. And the trio of beauty salon stylists (Rubin-Vega, Brooklyn 99 star Stephanie Beatriz, and Orange Is the New Black's Dascha Polanco) are hilarious as the musical's gossipy chorus.
Hamilfans will happily recognize LMM's signature style in all of the songs: They're boisterous, moving, and crowd-pleasingly catchy. "96,000" is an amusing reverie on the myriad ways the characters would spend the loot, and "Paciencia and Fe" is Abuela Claudia's beautiful personal narrative about her mother's favorite saying ("patience and faith"). Marc Anthony, who has a small but pivotal role as Sonny's father/Usnavi's uncle, lends his voice for the soundtrack's original track, "Home All Summer," which plays over the credits. In the same way that Chu's book-to-screen adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians amplified and elevated the talents of East Asian (and diaspora) characters/actors, In the Heights revolves around New York City's Latino population, albeit with a focus on light-skinned Latinos despite Washington Heights' large Afro-Latino population. Usnavi is Dominican, the Rosarios are Puerto Rican, Abuela Claudia is Cuban, and the rest of the characters represent various Latin American cultures. The "Carnaval del Barrio" number -- which is reminiscent of West Side Story's "America" -- is a triumphant reminder of the neighborhood's working-class immigrants united in a new homeland.