A report by Kayleigh Fongers for Screen Rant.
Lin-Manuel Miranda is best known for the musical phenomenon Hamilton, and his first musical In The Heights never achieved the same popularity — despite being acclaimed in its own right. In the Heights first opened on Broadway in 2008 to warm reviews, even earning the Tony Award for Best Musical that same year. But this didn’t compare to the success that ensued for Hamilton after its premiere in 2015. The rap/hip-hop retelling of Alexander Hamilton’s life earned eleven Tony Awards, and after being made available on Disney+, it became a true pop culture sensation.
Miranda’s first musical isn’t as well known as Hamilton. In the Heights follows the story of a tight-knit group of neighbors living in Washington Heights, a predominantly Dominican neighborhood in New York City. Usnavi de la Vega, the musical’s narrator, is a convenience store owner and immigrant from the Dominican Republic. He introduces the audience to other major characters including Nina, Benny, Vanessa, Sonny, and the community’s matriarch “Abuela” Claudia. The characters grapple with a city-wide blackout, intense heat, and the joys and setbacks of life in an urban neighborhood.Continue Scrolling To Keep ReadingClick the button below to start this article in quick view.
Though In the Heights has emotional appeal and relies on both clever rap and gorgeous melodies like its successor, it’s not on the same level as Hamilton in terms of popularity. This could be because of the initial shock appeal of the Founding Father-based musical that drew in curious crowds. While In the Heights has been described as a “hip-hop version of Rent” [via ET], Hamilton was something completely unique. It caught the attention of those who didn’t have any previous interest in theater, and word-of-mouth spread fast, leading to sold-out shows. This was a key reason why Hamilton is more popular.
While one could argue that Hamilton is simply a better musical — it being the product of Miranda’s experience and maturity — it’s also likely that its timing and content played a factor. Hamilton debuted with a diverse cast, thus retelling Alexander Hamilton’s story and that period of American history through a new lens. While In the Heights did the same, this artistic choice is more important for Hamilton, since it added an additional political commentary on race and identity in America. Immigration and racial issues became heated topics during Trump’s presidency, which only fuelled the significance of Hamilton. Compared to In the Heights, Hamilton happened to be in the right place at the right time — or at least was more openly provocative.
In the Heights has some qualities that the pop culture phenomenon does not, which may help it become a hit after debuting on HBO Max and in theaters. The show moves at a bit of a slower pace than the jam-packed historical life of Hamilton in song; this allows for breaks in the action and moments of silence, as well as more dialogue that helps with transitions between musical numbers. In the Heights also includes some keen wordplay and mingling of both English and Spanish, which makes for a more enriching multicultural experience. In the Heights will likely lend itself better to the big screen since the storyline of Hamilton includes more telling rather than showing the action, while the storyline of In the Heights does the opposite. It’s highly possible that the film will give it a boost in popularity come June.