In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical love letter to Washington Heights is finally here and we're happy to report that the real-life NYC neighborhood features prominently.
The story, which revolves around Usnavi de la Vega, a Dominican bodega owner in Manhattan on the verge of closing his store and the friends and neighbors he comes to see as his own family, incorporates salsa, soul, hip-hop and other musical influences.
The film, which premieres today and opened the Tribeca Festival, is a major success, according to our own reviewer Phil De Semlyen. "If Hamilton reimagined America’s past in uplifting style, this loose-limbed and earworm-loaded hymn to Washington Heights’ Latinx community does the same job for its present," he wrote.
While some set pieces were created elsewhere in New York City, the majority of scenes were filmed around Washington Heights—the northernmost part of Manhattan, from 155th to about 195th streets—in 2019 and that was on purpose.
Producer Anthony Bregman said that it had to be that way.
"Shooting In the Heights in the actual Heights was key to us because the stories being told in the screenplay are intrinsic to the community," he said. "The streets were busy all day and at night until the wee hours. Music was coming out of boomboxes on corners, the windows of apartments, radios in cars, underscored with car and motorcycle engines revving. It really felt like what’s said in the movie, that the streets are alive with music. That hum, that energy pervaded the production and the performances. It seemed to make everyone come alive, but also rooted them to this place in realistic and romantic ways.”
Miranda said the film was so real at times that it was hard to tell if "those domino players on the corners were ours or if they were just here. That’s a credit to the authenticity created by our departments.”
Costume designer Mitchell Travers said that people from the neighborhood would just drop by with homemade food "just because they were excited for us to be there."
"I had a man come up to me and say, 'I understand that you might need shoes.' He came back within an hour and set up a table with all the shoes he could carry. I just loved how bold his approach was, and I was like, 'I want them all, I’ll take them all!'"
We think that because the musical was filmed in the actual neighborhood it portrays makes it even more worth your time. So as you see it this weekend (or beyond), make sure to look out for the following real-life places in In the Heights you can visit any time.
The crew actually filmed at the real Highbridge Park pool on 177th and Amsterdam Avenue with more than 500 extras and cast who sang, dance and splashed around doing "these crazy Busby Berkeley/Esther Williams shots with a big crane and underwater cameras" for the sensational song "96,000," when the main characters talk about how they'd spend their hypothetical lottery winnings. The pool, which actually is two Olympic-sized pools that opened in the summer of 1936, was filmed for the movie on two unseasonably cool and cloudy June 2019 days preceding a storm.
You can visit it for free starting June 26, 11am-7pm.
175th Street & Audubon Avenue
This particular intersection was chosen because it was less hilly than other parts of the Heights and contains "low-profile" townhouses and a corner bodega (with a green awning), according to the New York Post.
The film's design department re-dressed some of the buildings and their facades on the corner of 175th and Audubon Avenue, which is where Usnavi’s bodega, Daniela’s salon and Rosario’s car service are located in the film.
If you're looking to get into these places, the salon and bodega interiors were built on soundstages at the New York State Armory in Brooklyn. The interior of the Rosario apartment was built into an existing apartment in Harlem, and Abuela Claudia’s home was made inside a townhouse a few blocks from the main intersection.
J. Hood Wright Park
The elevated park at 175th Street's west end with sweeping views of the George Washington Bridge made an appearance in the film during a romantic scene between Benny and Nina, but so did a courtyard between apartment buildings four blocks away from the park were featured, where about 60 dancers plus the cast did a 14-hour stint on a hot day for the party scene "Carnaval Del Barrio."
Once the director called the final "cut," everyone on set continued to cheer, dance, sing and wave flags with Miranda watching from the fire escape above. The ensemble below then began to spontaneously chant his name: "Lin! Lin!" according to Chu. "He started tearing up, then we started tearing up. We were all here—everybody—because of him."
"That day was special on a lot of different levels, because it was actually happening in this courtyard behind these buildings in the Heights, a couple of blocks from where Lin grew up," said Jimmy Smits (Kevin Rosario) said. "The exuberance, that sense of community and neighborhood, all of those things he envisioned as a seed in the beginning when he and Quiara created this—all of that was exemplified there, in that little space with all those people. It was a wave of emotion, joyful and very moving as well."
191st Street subway station
The graffiti-filled 1 train tunnel on Broadway near Fort Tryon Park is the setting for Abuela Claudia's song "Paciencia y Fe," but unfortunately the actual tunnel wasn't used in the film because the crew had to avoid commuters and couldn't use it until late at night, according to the Post. Instead, the crew headed to Brooklyn’s Ninth Avenue D train station south of Green-Wood cemetery to film scenes with vintage subway trains. This area is off-limits to the public.