Lin-Manuel Miranda, director Jon M. Chu and star Anthony Ramos took the train to the top of the world to offer a sneak peek of “In the Heights,” Warner Bros.’ big-screen adaptation of Miranda’s (other) hit musical.
“I’m thrilled we’re here, and I’m thrilled we’re uptown,” Miranda rhapsodized to a packed crowd at a cozy restaurant space in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City. “I started writing this show when I was 19 years old, six blocks away, where my parents live.”
Before Miranda hypnotized the world with “Hamilton,” he created the Tony-nominated “In the Heights,” a slice-of-life musical that centers on a bodega owner named Usnavi. The movie doesn’t debut in theaters until next summer, but Wednesday night’s event treated attendees to a first look at the cinematic spectacle.
Before the trailer rolled, cast members including Corey Hawkins, Melissa Barrera, Jimmy Smits and Daphne Rubin-Vega waxed poetic about their experience filming flashy dance numbers over the summer in Manhattan. As the actors took the stage one-by-one, Miranda greeted each with fanfare that would be the envy of even the most enthusiastic sportscaster. “This is the dream team. The dream, dream, dream team,” effused Miranda, who mostly relinquished the mic to his co-stars during the nearly 50-minute panel.
The Washington Heights restaurant itself was transformed into something out of a movie scene, complete with a makeshift bodega and piragua stand, both nods to the musical’s setting. While watching exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, guests munched on empanadas, croquettes and ceviche and drank cold champagne straight from the bottle.
Though “In the Heights” made its Broadway debut over a decade ago, its ubiquitous themes about legacy, family and love remain timeless.
“When I saw the show years and years ago, it reminded me of my family,” Chu said. “I grew up in an immigrant family. The community and the fight to survive and the right to dream was everything to me. That’s the American story. I said, ‘I know how to make this movie and how to express it.'”
He joked of Miranda, “I know everyone’s very jealous I got to work with our Shakespeare of his time. I’ll make a vlog all about it.”
Ramos, best known for “Hamilton” and “A Star Is Born,” stars as Usnavi (named after a ship his parents saw with a sign that read U.S. Navy). Miranda, who originated the main role on Broadway, instead portrays the owner of a small piragua stand whose syrupy, icy treats rival that of Mister Softee.
Usnavi, who Ramos describes as someone whose “dreams are so big that he’s scared of them,” serves as his first foray as a leading man.
“I felt a huge responsibility, but I also didn’t feel any pressure,” Ramos said. “The fact that Lin trusted me with this role means more to me than you’ll ever know, bro.”
Before the evening ended, Chu harkened back to his experience on 2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians,” the first Hollywood film in 25 years to feature a cast of predominately Asian descent. “In the Heights,” with a largely Hispanic cast, has a similar universality to its story.
“You can’t change the world if they don’t want to change, but never underestimate the power of planting a seed,” Chu said. “I believe that this movie is an amazingly beautiful seed that can change a lot of minds.”
Watch the first trailer for “In the Heights” here.