Adaptation and Themes in In the Heights

Adaptation and Themes in In the Heights

Adaptation of storytelling has always been a staple of games, and it has been especially prominent in the genre of rhythm games. Although many games were released to various degrees of success in the past, few have been able to inspire such a passionate following as In the Heights . In the Heights is based on the Tony Award-winning musical of the same name, which itself has been adapted into a stage play, a film, and even a video game! With the show having such a massive fan base, it is no wonder that the site of its production, the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City, was recreated in full within the game. However, as anyone who has been to New York City knows, Washington Heights is far from the typical picture

The creative success of the production of In the Heights (2009) is rooted in the cultural climate of New York City. Since its Broadway debut, In the Heights (2009) has been a staple of the New York theatre and arts scene. This production is a play that captures the essence of life in the city, featuring the energetic music of Lin-Manuel Miranda.

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to see the new Broadway musical adaptation of the Tony-award winning musical, In the Heights, and my experience of seeing the show for the first time was a mixed one. I went into the show with fairly high expectations, as I’ve been a huge fan of the musical since I saw it on Broadway in 2007. There were, however, two aspects of the show that I did not enjoy, and I would like to discuss them with you.

Adaptations and themes in the film Auf der Höhe



Last week I talked about the recent reactions to Lin Manuel-Miranda. His performances and creations on Broadway, film and television for Hamilton, which spanned nearly two decades, were met with a mixture of admiration and indifference. But after Hamilton appeared on Broadway and on Disney+, critics came out in droves. I find it telling that people (and the art they create) cause the most problems when they are most successful. It’s almost as if the haters are actually angry about something other than what they’re criticizing. Perhaps they are jealous of the fame and fortune that comes with such success. That’s not to say that criticism can’t be justified or that all the negativity suddenly appeared out of nowhere when Hamilton was growing up. But the complaints and accusations seem disproportionate and more of a personal attack on the creator of the two musicals than an honest and critical review. Today I want to talk about something I find much more interesting than the political discussions surrounding Miranda’s work: the work itself. It’s tragic that so much of the reaction to On High is due to the political subtext (which may not even exist) rather than the artistry it represents. I’ve already judged On High on its own merits as a film. Today I want to look at the themes Miranda explores in the novel In the Heights and how they changed in the film.

Adaptation and Themes in In the Heights


On High is a movie I expected to like, but I didn’t think I would have to think about it so much. The elements of the show that were left out of the film speak volumes about the themes that director John M. Chu wanted to explore. The time that has passed since the premiere and the changes needed to make a film that appeals to the general public also play a role. But for the most part, I can’t help but feel that some characters and songs were cut out to take away some of the more complex or sad plot elements of the show. There are two major changes I want to discuss here, the importance of Abuela Claudia as a character and Nina’s storyline/motivation arc. I had never seen On High on stage or even heard of him before Hamilton came out on Disney+. But I enjoyed the film and listened to the original Broadway recording because it’s generally better and I really like the original actors (who later played in Hamilton). In the play, Olga Meredith’s heroine, Abuela Paciencia y Fe, performs much earlier and dies towards the end. When I first saw the movie, I didn’t see the problem because I had no reference points. Now that I know them both, I think it was an absolutely bad decision that weakens both their character and the story as a whole. Although Usnavi is the main character in both versions, Abuela is central to the region and its history. Abuela inspires important decisions for characters like Nina and Usnavi. In both the play and the film, Abuela is a mainstay of the community, advising, coddling, listening, and seemingly offering whatever is asked of her. Abuela practically adopts Usnavi when her parents die, but she also helps raise characters like Nina. This aspect is greatly diminished in the film by the deletion of the song All I Know, in which Nina cries for Abuela as she searches through her old photo albums.

This had to happen for the film to exist in its current form. In the original, Nina decides to go back to school, not because of undocumented immigrants like Sonny, but because of the impact Abuela has had on her life and education. This is another case where I liked the movie when I first saw it, but now I don’t think they made the right choice. In updating the story, we added immigration and other issues, and I have no problem with that. But the play seems narratively denser and thematically more concise because the actions of Nina and Usnavi are connected to Abuela’s character. Abuela Claudia is based on the real life of Lin Manuel-Miranda’s grandmother, which has a direct impact on her role and the feelings she evokes in the audience. For the last eight months, since my grandfather died, I see him in everything. Nina’s anecdotes about Abuela in All I Know hit me like a vise every time. Although the situations are different, the feelings are the same. I still don’t understand why they cut something so honest and personal instead of showing Nina’s decision to go back to college because of Sonny’s immigration status in the movie. It’s not that it’s not a noble thing or that it doesn’t make sense; it’s perfect on both counts. But it’s weaker than the original because it’s less personal to Nina. I think it came down to two things that might have influenced the studio bosses: making the film more optimistic and making it more contemporary. I don’t think it’s helpful to remove the parts of a story like this that might be angry or bitter. Of course, we turn to fiction for pleasure and entertainment. But I console myself with the thought that experiences like loss are universal, and with seeing a heroine like Nina grow through them. Instead of dwelling on what she lost after Abuela’s death, Nina is inspired by the life she led and the impact she had on the entire neighborhood. Nina looks back on her troubles at Stanford to make Abuela proud, remembering how she encouraged her as a child in school. The omission of this scene weakens both Abuela’s impact on the plot and Nina’s plot. In the song Finale, Usnavi sings: I beat the stories of people on the street / Some have a happy ending / Others have a bittersweet ending / But I know them all, and that makes my life complete, and that reflects the problem perfectly. Giving Nina a purely happy/inspiring reason to go back to school is less obnoxious than linking her to Abuela’s death, I think. But that’s the problem, life isn’t complete without loss and grief, and neither is fiction. The placement of Abuela’s death right after Paciencia Y Fe, her only solo number, separates it from the other highlights of the story. Abuela’s death was like a realistic version of a fantasy trophy in which the hero must lose his mentor in order to grow up and become himself; think Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, etc. But in the movie, it seems like a random event that has nothing to do with Nina and Usnavi’s travels. In a story about family and community, it seems very strange to tear up the characters’ history in this way. In a way it’s even sadder, because in the film his death has little meaning or significance in the grand scheme of things. Originally, it inspired people to make difficult (but right) decisions.

Adaptation and Themes in In the Heights

While Nina from the movie struggles with racism at school and has apparently dated Benny before, Nina from the OG series struggles with racism in her relationship with Benny. I found this change particularly confusing; clearly they didn’t want Nina to face racism at home and at school. I think they had to keep the complicated dynamic between Nina and Benny’s family. I would also spare her the early problems in school that were financial. But in the original, Nina and Benny want to be together, but they can’t because Nina’s father, Kevin, is very traditional and wants her to only date Latinos. He despises Benny because he’s black, and probably because he’s not in college like Nina. Not only do I think it’s easier than saying Benny dumped Nina so she could go to college (what the hell?), but it was an interesting dynamic. It may be a cliché when lovers can’t be together because of their families, but it’s a cliché for a reason. People love that kind of thing. These changes also resulted in the removal of one of the couple’s songs, Sunrise. This bilingual ballad is beautiful, and in this one the two promise to be together no matter what. (Promise me you’ll stay after sunrise/I don’t give a damn what anyone says after sunrise!) This is one of the best musical moments with the two characters, and of their three songs together, this is my favorite and the only one that was cut for the film

Nina’s mother, Carmilla, and her song Enough were also cut during the filming of the movie. This change seems to make the most sense to me; the movie is as long as it is, and this character/song will have the least impact of all the cuts. But the song is fun and catchy, and Carmilla puts Kevin and Nina in their place. Overall, it’s a loss. Kevin, Carmilla and Nina were a normal nuclear family against the backdrop of young lovers (Nina/Benny, Usnavi/Vanesa) and surrogate families like Abuela and Usnavi. I like the idea of showing all types of families in the community. And contrary to what I think John M. Chu said in the interview, I don’t think it will replace that if Carla and Daniela become a couple. Relations between Rosario’s family members are complicated by Carmilla’s presence and Nina’s initial conflict at school.

It seems they wanted to change Usnavi’s motivation to stay in New York, which led to some changes in Abuela. In the play, when Abuela dies, I get the sense that Usnavi’s determination to return to the Dominican Republic has weakened; the two women had clearly planned to return together one day, and Abuela’s win in the lottery allows them to do so. The song Hundreds of Stories became one of my favorites on the album for several reasons. Lin Manuel-Miranda and Olga Meredith sound fantastic together; seriously, when these two harmonize, I get goosebumps. This is the only time they sing together, if you don’t count the brief interludes in In the Heights and Blackout. She comforts Usnavi by reminding him of the importance of his name (or lack thereof?) and how proud his parents would be of him. The song is beautiful in its instrumentation and lyrics, and it further reinforces the family bond between Usnavi and the woman who protected him when he had no one. It’s a happy, upbeat song when you first hear/see it, but I love how the meaning of the song changes as you learn the end of the story. They keep saying they’re going home together: And whatever we do, it will be you and me! The knowledge that she won’t live long enough to realize her dream adds a touch of sadness to the song. After Abuela’s death, Usnavi can still go to the DR, but there will be no one for him. I think going along with Abuela, her immediate family, not to mention her cousin Sonny, was a big part of the fantasy. When Usnavi sees Pete’s mural on the walls of the bodega, it’s a done deal. It was a mural of Abuela confirming that Usnavi belongs here and that the community still needs people like her. It’s such a great moment because it safeguards so many facilities at once. In On High, the opening number of the show and film, Usnavi introduces us to the people of the city as he knows them intimately. We see that everyone respects Usnavi and that he is an important member of the community. But that’s not how he sees himself. He feels out of place in New York and considers the Dominican Republic his home. The original ending works so well because it ties everything together: Usnavi’s need to belong, the void that Abuela’s death has left in the town, and Usnavi’s inability to recognize her value in society. In the film, the subject matter is toned down considerably and is only about the island itself and Usnavi’s romantic interest in Vanessa.

Vanessa is the weakest main character in On High, in both versions. Her interest in fashion was added to the film to showcase her more, which is pretty funny. Melissa Barrera is incredibly beautiful and does a great job in her role, but Vanessa doesn’t fit my personality as a character. Her goals are vague, she doesn’t treat everyone well (especially Usnavi), and their relationship feels forced to me. Nina and Benny are the most developed couple, especially in the play. It seems that the only basis for their relationship is that Vanessa is beautiful. She doesn’t seem to like Usnavi, even though she agrees to go out with him. She laughs at him when he compliments her in the store, and when they go out she ignores him and dances with half the Heights. Why would anyone like this character, let alone the main character ending up with her? In the piece it doesn’t seem so obvious, because even though Usnavi says: I approached Vanessa, we have a second date, she’s not the reason he’s staying. She is not even present when Sonny and Pete show the mural to Usnavi. On the contrary, in the film she is the initiator of all this. Vanessa also shows Usnavi some dresses she has sewn, which I don’t understand. It’s probably a good thing she’s overcome the fashion equivalent of writer’s block, but what does that have to do with convincing him to stay in America? This scene was generally better when it came to Abuela and her role in the community. Usnavi’s relationship with Abuela was stronger and more compelling than his feelings for Vanessa; they were certainly more developed. But it’s also directly related to her story and themes, whereas staying for the sake of Vanessa is not. He mentions it in the original and suggests that it is one of the factors influencing the decision. That was enough. In the film, Abuela remains the matriarch of the village and an inspirational figure, at least for Usnavi. But the effect is not the same if you cut into your role, if you delay any exploration of your character until the scene before his death, and if you cut into the themes of the play. Usnavi was inspired by Abuela’s example to stay and serve the community in the original, realizing that it was her home from the beginning. Abuela’s limited role in the film and the omission of crucial musical passages in which she appears have a devastating effect on the satisfying ending.

Adaptation and Themes in In the Heights

I still like the movie On High. It is a visual feast with impressively choreographed dance numbers, an extremely talented cast and beautiful music. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Still, I think it’s a shame that they decided to cut out some of the most important moments from the series to make a light-hearted and cheerful summer movie. In real life, you have to look on the bright side, and I think it makes sense to portray that in fiction. A happy ending is more satisfying when you know what it means and what you had to do for it.In the Heights is an award-winning musical based in New York City, which tells the story of a Latino family moving to the neighborhood of Washington Heights when they adopt the American dream. The musical explores themes of immigration, the struggle of being Latino, and the meaning of family in an American melting pot.. Read more about in the heights synopsis and let us know what you think.{“@context”:””,”@type”:”FAQPage”,”mainEntity”:[{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What’s the theme of In the Heights?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:” The theme of In the Heights is community.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What is the storyline of In the Heights?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:” The story follows a young man named Usnavi who is trying to make it in the world of New York City. He lives in Washington Heights, a neighborhood that is home to many immigrants and people of color. Usnavi’s family has been living there for generations, but they are not wealthy like some of the other families in the area. They struggle with money and have to work hard just to get by. Usnavi is trying to make it in the world of theater, but he has a lot of obstacles to overcome.”}},{“@type”:”Question”,”name”:”What culture is in the Heights?”,”acceptedAnswer”:{“@type”:”Answer”,”text”:” The Heights is a diverse neighborhood with many different cultures.”}}]}

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the theme of In the Heights?

The theme of In the Heights is community.

What is the storyline of In the Heights?

The story follows a young man named Usnavi who is trying to make it in the world of New York City. He lives in Washington Heights, a neighborhood that is home to many immigrants and people of color. Usnavi’s family has been living there for generations, but they are not wealthy like some of the other families in the area. They struggle with money and have to work hard just to get by. Usnavi is trying to make it in the world of theater, but he has a lot of obstacles to overcome.

What culture is in the Heights?

The Heights is a diverse neighborhood with many different cultures.

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