In the Heights and the new Golden Age of musicals

Disney has produced several live-action remakes of their 90s animated musicals including The Lion King (2019) and Aladdin (2019), while delivering original animated and song-filled outings like Moana (2016), Coco (2017), Frozen (2012) and Frozen 2 (2019). Even television has got in on the action with the likes of Glee (2009-2015), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (2015-2019) and, only this year, We Are Lady Parts while several live musical specials including productions of Grease (2016), The Little Mermaid (2019) and Jesus Christ Superstar (2018) have been a hit with viewers at home too.

Soon, the big screen will boast film adaptations of stage hits Everyone’s Talking about Jamie and Dear Evan Hansen, and a West Side Story remake from Steven Spielberg. Upcoming, too, are Annette, a musical romance from French auteur Leos Carax starring Adam Driver and Marion Cotillard, with original music from synth-pop duo Sparks, and Miranda’s feature directorial debut Tick Tick… Boom. These films will arrive right in time for awards season consideration where the genre has historically done well. All in all, the musical hasn’t been this popular since its Golden Age during the mid-20th Century. In a world where, pandemic or not, we can feel increasingly disconnected from each other, Hudes believes their resurgence has come because they are offering audiences a real human touch.

“A musical gives an audience permission to relax, imagine and not have to pay attention in such a rigid way because music does something that words alone can’t do,” she tells BBC Culture. “We’re humans, we need music. It’s one of our most basic instincts. Our hearts beat in rhythm. I don’t know what can be more essentially human than rhythm and song. Musicals have staying power because they are not just their own subgenre – they incorporate contemporary and different genres of music that’s only to the benefit of audiences.”

The power of In the Heights

The music of In the Heights takes its cues from the diverse Latin community it represents, infusing hip-hop, salsa, merengue and soul music into the score and with lyrics about love, life, community and the American dream. Chu has taken visual and choreography cues from the films of Busby Berkeley and Esther Williams while casting an all-singing, all-dancing array of established and emerging actors from the Latin American community including Anthony Ramos, who appeared in the original 2008 production of Hamilton, Broadway veterans Daphne Rubin-Vega and Olga Merediz, who is reprising her role of community matriarch Abuela, and small screen stars Melissa Barrera and Stephanie Beatriz.

Straight Outta Compton’s Corey Hawkins plays the only non-Spanish speaking character, Benny, who helps run the taxi dispatch owned by Mr Rosario (Jimmy Smits) the father of his love Nina (Leslie Grace), a Stanford University student who wants to drop out because of the financial strain on her dad and the racial microaggressions she experiences on campus.

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