Tag Archives: Lin-Manuel Miranda

My Thoughts on: In the Heights (2021)

I originally learned about In the Heights while reading the behind the scenes book about the making of Hamilton that I bought last summer. If you weren’t aware, it was while In the Heights was running on Broadway that Lin-Manuel Miranda got the idea for what would eventually become Hamilton, but I digress…because this review isn’t about Hamilton but In the Heights. And after seeing this film, I have to say that this story should NOT be known as “the musical Lin-Manuel Miranda did before Hamilton” because oh my GOD the story of In the Heights is just as good!

The story of In the Heights takes place over a span of 3 days, before, during, and after a blackout that paralyzes New York City (while it is similar to the infamous 2003 Blackout, most of the show was actually written in 1999). Our narrator throughout the story is Usnavi (Anthony Ramos), the owner of a corner bodega who dreams of returning to the Dominican Republic. Through Usnavi, we meet the varied characters who live and dream in Washington Heights. These include Vanessa, an aspiring fashion designer, Abuela, who has adopted the entire block as her family, Nina, who’s back in town from attending Stanford, Benny the cab dispatcher (and Nina’s would-be boyfriend), and Sonny, Usnavi’s younger cousin who helps him run the bodega. It’s a colorful cast of characters and I was quickly drawn into the story. I was actually worried going in that I would have a hard time connecting to the story but I should have known that Lin-Manuel Miranda’s music would make it easy to dive right in.

To put it simply: if you loved the music of Hamilton, you will love the music of In the Heights. Like Hamilton, In the Heights is full of rap and freestyle melodies, though there’s obviously a Latin twist that doesn’t exist in Hamilton for obvious reasons. The music brings an entire culture to life throughout the story, and it’s so beautiful because this is a culture that’s full of life, passion, faith, and courage to go on in spite of facing huge obstacles in every direction. In fact, the community shown is so vibrant and so full of life, that it feels like you could just step right through the screen and be there with all of it, and I love a story where the world is this fully realized.

And oh yes, this story does not shy away from mentioning the obstacles people of color face on a daily basis. It’s mentioned several times by a number of characters that chasing dreams isn’t always easy, in fact it can be quite painful at times. And I like that the film makes it clear that sometimes you DON’T get your dream, even if you try. It’s a hard thing to hear of course, but it’s honest and I really like that because we’re still encouraged to go after our dreams, even if it hurts at times. And also, there’s a hint in the film that sometimes your “dream” isn’t what you think it is. That’s something I’m seeing more of in movies, but In the Heights does it really well.

IN THE HEIGHTS Copyright: © 2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo Credit: Macall Polay Caption: (L -r) NOAH CATALA as Graffiti Pete, GREGORY DIAZ IV as Sonny, COREY HAWKINS as Benny and ANTHONY RAMOS as Usnavi in Warner Bros. Pictures’ “IN THE HEIGHTS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

What I wasn’t expecting was for In the Heights to make me cry but there’s one portion of this story that absolutely wrecked me. It all centers on “Paciencia y Fe” and “Alabanza” and the character of Abuela. I’m not the kind to readily cry in a movie theater, but the scenes with those two songs ripped at my heartstrings in a way that I didn’t expect going in.

I think my two favorite songs (that didn’t make me cry) were “In the Heights” and “96,000.” I like the opening song because it throws you in headfirst to the colorful world of Washington Heights and it was a really fun song to bop my head in rhythm with the music too. And I love “96,000” because it brought me back to my own childhood when I would go swim at the community rec center pool and everyone would be there.

I also love that Lin-Manuel Miranda appears in the film as the piragua vendor and there’s also a blink and you might miss it cameo from Christopher Jackson too.

What I’m trying to say is that In the Heights is absolutely the summer movie we’ve been waiting for. I laughed, I cried, it felt like an entire summer squeezed into a single film, all the good and bad. I know In the Heights is currently available on HBO Max but if your local movie theater is open, I highly recommend going to see this in theaters instead. It’s such a good experience and it deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Let me know what you think about In the Heights in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: Hamilton (2020)

Like many, I was beyond excited for the opportunity to check out Hamilton for the first time when it came out on Disney+ yesterday. And why not? It’s been an absolute hit ever since it crashed into our lives in 2015. I knew of the musical pretty much from the start, but never really had the opportunity to check it out, not even to listen to the music….until now that is.

And holy SH*T what music!! I don’t always get into rap or hip-hop and I was briefly worried that this would deter me from getting into or enjoying Hamilton but I was so, so wrong. If anything, the story feels even more relatable when presented in this way. In brief, in case you’re not familiar, Hamilton chronicles the rise (and fall) of Alexander Hamilton in a way I guarantee you’ve ever seen before. What’s released on Disney+ is a filmed production of a show from late June 2016 and features the original Broadway cast.

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I’ve seen filmed stage productions before (Cats from the late 90s, Phantom of the Opera at Royal Albert Hall), but they pale in comparison to this performance of Hamilton (not least because Cats and Phantom are WORLDS apart from this show). As you sit and watch you feel like you’re in the best seat in the house, seeing the show from the perfect angle. There are close-ups in the appropriate places, the overall sound quality is amazing, and oh my god I cannot get over all of that amazing music!

Now, I will say that the first time I watched Hamilton (last night), it did take me about half an hour to get into the flow. As I said before, I don’t listen to a lot of rap and hip-hop so I’m not used to that kind of freestyle, free-flowing music. Once you get the hang of listening to it, however, it’s a lot of fun to listen to, even if a few details do get lost in the shuffle (when Lafayette comes back as a general I still can’t tell you what he says). I think my two favorite pieces (really I love them all) are “The Ten Dueling Commandments” and “The Room Where it Happens.” I especially like the former because it lays out everything you need to know about a duel while still keeping it interesting.

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I also love, love, LOVE the fact that Aaron Burr narrates the overall story, that reminds me so much of how Judas narrates the bulk of Jesus Christ Superstar (and according to my reading may have been done in homage to that very show). Let me tell you, when I found out that THAT was Aaron Burr my first thought was “Oh boy, THIS is going to be interesting.” And it is! Watching Burr and Hamilton interact throughout the whole show, knowing how it’s going to end….let’s just say by the time the climax finally comes the suspense will be almost overwhelming.

Lin-Manuel Miranda found this way to take the life of Alexander Hamilton, a story with all the potential to make for very dry reading/viewing and made it cool (and heartbreaking). To be sure, liberties are taken with the facts, but that’s not uncommon when history is adapted for musical theater. I think in the very broad strokes the story Miranda is trying to get across is correct, that Hamilton was this immigrant who did amazing things during his life, but who was also human and made many, MANY mistakes (my jaw dropped upon learning about the Reynolds pamphlet).

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I also have to say that I love King George III. His part is relatively small but he is FUNNY! Watching him comment on the coming war, the aftermath, and John Adams becoming the next president, all of it had me in stitches. He is one of the best parts of Hamilton and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Before I conclude, I learned something about dueling that made my brain explode. In a duel, “throwing away your shot” refers to firing so that you deliberately miss your opponent in a last ditch effort to end the affair once and for all. So when Alexander sings about not “throwing away my shot”, well….it kind of puts the ending of his story in a whole different light, doesn’t it.

In conclusion, I thoroughly loved watching Hamilton on Disney+ and I feel like everyone should sit down and watch it at least once. Given that Broadway is closed for the rest of 2020 (and possibly longer), this is your best chance to watch one of the hottest shows on Broadway (without paying an arm and a leg). I also think that, given the current political climate, this is also a really good time to watch Hamilton as well, and once you see it, you’ll understand why.

As for me, I’m perfectly happy to proclaim myself a Hamilton fan.

Let me know what you think about Hamilton on Disney+ in the comments below and have a great day!

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Moana “How Far I’ll Go” (2016)

Moana has nearly convinced herself that she can live happily for the rest of her life on Motonui but fate has a different plan for this chief’s daughter. One day, as Moana is going about helping the people, a group comes up to show her a basket of rotten coconuts. No problem, Moana instructs them to start gathering from a different grove and to remove the diseased trees. But then the fishermen come up and show their empty baskets: there are no fish in the lagoon, nor are there any to be found in any of the other usual fishing spots that Moana suggests they try instead. While her father gets into a heated discussion with the fishermen, Moana is struck by a brilliant idea: why don’t they go beyond the reef to fish? I believe that she is making a sincere suggestion that might help the island (and not just because she wants to go explore herself) but her father does not see it that way at all. He rejects her flatly and insists they will find another way because “no one sails beyond the reef.”

Disheartened (again), Moana remains on the beach and ponders her seemingly unending desire to explore the ocean. This is the setting of “How Far I’ll Go.” There’s a version of this song in almost every animated Disney song that I can think of:

And those are just to name a few! But despite this type of song showing up in so many films, it doesn’t change the fact that I love this song! It resonates with me because I too struggle with wanting to do things that people close to me do not always understand.

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I’ve been staring at the edge of the water
Long as I can remember
Never really knowing why
I wish I could be the perfect daughter
But I come back to the water
No matter how hard I try

Every turn I take, every trail I track
Every path I make, every road leads back
To the place I know where I cannot go
Where I long to be

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See the line where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows
How far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea
Stays behind me
One day, I’ll know
If I go, there’s just no telling how far I’ll go

I know everybody on this island
Seems so happy on this island
Everything is by design
I know everybody on this island
Has a role on this island
So maybe I can roll with mine

Moana’s argument does make sense: everybody else is perfectly happy with their roles on the island, so why shouldn’t she be content with her role as a chief’s daughter (and future chief in her own right)? She doesn’t understand why she’s drawn back time and time again to the ocean, in fact she wonders if there’s something wrong with her!

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I can lead with pride
I can make us strong
I’ll be satisfied if I play along
But the voice inside
Sings a different song
What is wrong with me?

All of Moana’s doubts are swept away every time she stares back at the ocean. Deep down, nothing else matters if she can just get out there and explore. That’s why, despite just hearing her father say no one can go beyond the reef, Moana runs back to the beach, grabs a boat and begins paddling out into the lagoon (despite not knowing the first thing about sailing!!)

See the light as it shines on the sea
It’s blinding
But no one knows
How deep it goes
And it seems like it’s calling out to me
So come find me
And let me know
What’s beyond that line?
Will I cross that line?
See the line where the sky meets the sea
It calls me
And no one knows
How far it goes
If the wind in my sail on the sea
Stays behind me
One day, I’ll know
How far I’ll go

The song ends on a high note but almost immediately turns into disaster when Moana’s boat is capsized and she nearly drowns with her foot stuck in the coral reef. This scene subverted a fairly common Disney trope where the hero/heroine gets caught doing something they shouldn’t by the stern authority figure/parent. I fully expected Moana to get caught by her father and get another tongue-lashing, but instead the only one who catches her is her beloved grandmother Tala (who doesn’t mind at all that Moana loves the ocean).

“How Far I’ll Go” was composed and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) and remains one of my favorite Disney songs almost two years after the film came out in theaters. What do you think of “How Far I’ll Go?” Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Moana “Where You Are” (2016)

Moana “How Far I’ll Go (reprise)” (2016)

Moana “We Know the Way” (2016)

Moana “You’re Welcome” (2016)

Moana “Shiny” (2016)

Moana “I am Moana” (2016)

Moana “Know Who You Are” (2016)

Disney Soundtracks A-Z

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