Theatre / In the Heights

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Paciencia y Fe everybody!
Lights up on Washington Heights, up at the break of day
I wake up and I got this little punk I gotta chase away

So begins the first song in Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2008 Broadway hit. Set in the neighbourhood Washington Heights of NYC, In the Heights is a musical covering three days in the lives of its colorful characters around Independence Day. Usnavi, the main character, runs his family's bodega with his young cousin, Sonny, and pines for the affection of the ambitious Vanessa, who wants to work her way out of the Heights. At the same time, Nina Rosario has returned to the Heights from Stanford University after dropping out and struggles to break the news to her working class parents despite the encouragement of Usnavi's best friend, Benny. Both of these plotlines play out while the economic conditions of the neighbourhood worsen and, as luck would have it, someone in the barrio has won 96,000 dollars from the lottery.

In the Heights is especially notable for being the first Broadway musical of its kind, a combination of rap, hip-hop and Latin music. Its unique sound won it four Tony Awards and kickstarted Miranda's career.

A movie adaptation has been in and out of Development Hell for a number of years. As of this writing, Jay-Z is in talks to produce it.

Warning: Soundtrack is guaranteed to lead to side effects of toe-tapping, humming and spontaneous dancing.


Provides examples of:

  • Arc Words: "No pare, sigue sigue!" meaning "Don't stop, continue, continue!" which gets encourages the two main characters, Usnavi and Nina, in "Hundreds of Stories" and "When You're Home" respectively. note 
  • Author Avatar: Lin Manuel Miranda as the creator, originated the character of Usnavi and played him on Broadway for a period of time. Many people believe he named Usnavi's Love Interest after his wife, but Vanessa is actually named after his sister's (who he based Nina on) best friend. He and his wife Vanessa did go to high school together, but it is just a coincidence. Miranda began writing the show before he and Vanessa began dating.
  • Beta Couple: Benny and Nina...which is an odd example, because they're given as much stage time and development as (if not more than) the Official Couple.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed:
    Daniela: They say he's got quite a big...taxi.
    Carla: I don't think I know what you mean.
    Daniela: Carla! He's packing a stretch limousine!
  • Bittersweet Ending: There's some happy endings, some sad and everyone's lives have changed. Benny and Nina in particular. They're going to be forced to have a long distance relationship without the approval of her dad. But they have each other.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In Act I, Usnavi reminds Abuela Claudia to take her heart medication; in Act II, not taking her medicine, the heat, and the shock of winning the lottery all contribute to her death
  • Crowd Song:
    • The opening sees the entire community of Washington Heights join in as the Interactive Narrator foreshadows the events that will transpire the community.
    • "96,000" becomes this once Sonny spreads the news that someone won the lottery, leading the entire community to get caught up in excitement over what that money could mean for them.
    • "Blackout" sees all of Washington Heights look to the sky and see the July 4th fireworks light up the night sky, providing light in the face of the chaotic power outage.
    • Daniella gets everyone laundering around the streets to put their time into celebrating their Latin heritage in "Carnaval del Barrio".
    • "Finale" sees most of the characters reprise parts from previous song and provide back-up while Usnavi considers his future and how that will affect the Barrio.
  • Debut Queue: Each character, with the sole exception of Nina, walks into or past the bodega during the opening number, with Usnavi calling them by name and dropping in a bit of their backstory.
  • '80s Hair: Nina sings of the ladies at Daniella's salon in an old photograph: "you can tell it's from the eighties/by the volume of their hair".
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Piragua Guy and Graffiti Pete are rarely referred to by actual names; in Piragua Guy's case, he is actually never referred to by any name.
  • Evolving Music: In 96,000, Sonny sings "What about immigration/Politicians be hating/Racism in this nation's gone from latent to blatant". After some high-profile political racefail hit the news, the line was changed to "Arizona be hating".
  • Family Business: Rosario's is co-owned by Kevin and Camila, and Nina has worked the dispatch.
  • Final Love Duet: Two. "Champagne" for Usnavi and Vanessa and "When the Sun Goes Down" for Nina and Benny.
  • Genre Roulette: Par for the course of Lin-Manuel Miranda's shows, the score is primarily rap and hip-hop, with a healthy dose of various Latin styles, mostly flamenco. It may also be the first Broadway show to feature reggaeton, of all things.
  • Generic Graffiti: "Graffiti Pete" is seen as a blight on the neighborhood (though he is friends with Sonny), and the musical begins with him attempting to tag Usnavi's bodega. At the end of the show he has, with Sonny's help, painted the bodega with a beautiful mural of Abuela Claudia.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: Justified Trope. Everyone but Benny is Hispanic.
    • Usually for comical reasons, or at times when the heritage of the cast is highlighted, such as:
    Carla: Dani, I have a question; I don't know what you're cantando.
    Daniela: Just make it up as you go. We are improvisando!
    • Used for dramatic effect in "Breathe", where Nina is the only one speaking English in the entire song to highlight the disconnect she feels from her own neighborhood and the guilt she feels about letting them down.
    • Some Gratuitous Hebrew thrown in for comic effect (Well, it is New York):
    Benny: To doing shots on a weekend!
    Usnavi: As long as you buy 'em, l'chaim!
  • Grief Song: "Alabanza," where Usnavi gives a eulogy, and Nina begins to say alabanza to honor the dead, with the entire community joining in until Usnavi ends the song with one final, quiet alabanza. It's for Abuela Claudia.
  • Gossipy Hens: Carla and Daniela
  • Happily Married: Kevin and Camila
  • Heat Wave: leading to the Act 1 finale "Blackout"
  • Hello, Nurse!: Vanessa is a tame version of this trope. Usnavi and most of the guys drool over her but no one actually gets ridiculous about it (as in it never gets to Informed Attractiveness levels). Vanessa herself doesn't think it's that big of a deal.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Daniela and Carla. Sonny and Graffiti Pete of all people come across as this. Benny and Usnavi also have some shade of this.
  • If I Were a Rich Man: "96,000" is about what the cast would do if they won the lottery.
  • Ironic Echo: Vanessa's first words to Usnavi are "You owe me a bottle of cold champagne". One of the last songs is "Champagne", which begins with Vanessa saying "I owe you a bottle of cold champagne" and producing said bottle.
  • "I Want" Song: "It Won't Be Long Now" is this for Vanessa.
  • Joins to Fit In: Nina, as she says in "When You're Home"
    • "I feel like all my life I'm trying to find the answers/Working harder/Learning Spanish/Learning all I can/I thought I might find the answer out at Stanford/But I'd just stare out at the sea thinking/Where am I supposed to be?"
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: in "96,000", the inexperienced Graffiti Pete tries to join in Benny, Sonny, and Usnavi's rap by claiming that he's "got more hoes than a phone book in Tokyo". Usnavi notices this and calls him out on the lame rhyme.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Nina and Usnavi have this dynamic
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Usnavi. Overlaps with Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?.
  • Kissing In A Tree: In the song "Carnaval Del Barrio" in Act 2, Daniela asks Benny if he's "seen any horses, today", having heard that he and Nina "went for a roll in the hay". The whole cast then proceeds to sing said song.
  • Massive Multiplayer Ensemble Number: The opening (aptly titled "In the Heights"), "96,000", and "Blackout".
  • Mixed Ancestry: Carla
    "My mom is Dominican-Cuban/My dad is from Chile and PR which means/I'm Chiledominicarican/But I always say I'm from Queens."
  • Mood Whiplash: A few examples, the biggest being "Alabanza" following the peppy "Carnaval del Barrio".
  • Motor Mouth: As is to be expected in a score comprised mostly of rap songs. Usnavi is especially prone to this, such as the "one dollar, two dollars..." part of the opening number.
    • Overlaps with Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness to a minor extent. Usnavi has a noticeably greater vocabulary and can fire off complex metaphors off the top of his head, as seen when he tries to chat up a hot girl at the club.
  • The Musical: Book kind.
  • Never Win the Lottery: Subverted, as it is a major plot point that somebody in the neighborhood actually did win the lottery. Though the $96,000 prize is not enough to make the winner fabulously wealthy, it is nonetheless a considerable sum. The trope is played straight when the winner, Abuela Claudia, dies before she can make use of the money. Then it's subverted again, since Usnavi and Sonny get to keep their shares of the winnings.
  • Oblivious Guilt Slinging: The end of "No Me Diga" turns into this, with everyone telling Nina how proud they are and how she must be the smartest one at Stanford.
  • Oblivious to Love: Subverted with Vanessa. She seems to be a more then a little aware of Usnavi's feelings but plays dumb since she is denial about her own feelings.
  • The One Who Made It Out: Double subverted with Nina. She dropped out of Stanford, but is going back in the fall.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: Nina and Usnavi go through a box of Abuela Claudia's things after the memorial service. A number of them are mementos of people in the neighborhood, including a composition Usnavi wrote in grade school and the program from Nina's high school graduation. Reminiscing with Usnavi helps Nina come to a decision about her future.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Sonny belongs in this role, with his youth often coming at the but of jokes, but it's also Played for Drama, because Sonny's ideas and beliefs are dismissed as "cute" because of his age even if they are well thought-out.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: See Evolving Music above.
  • Rhyming with Itself
  • Say My Name: After Nina's dinner and when Kevin reveals he has sold the family business to pay for Nina's college tuition, Nina tells her father that she will never use this money as it has lost Benny his job. She proceeds to follow Benny to the club. At this, Kevin yells "NIINAAAAAAAAAA!"
    • Done earlier in "It Won't Be Long Now", when Daniella yells Vanessa's name to get her to stop flirting with Usnavi and buy her packing tape and Pepsi. Unlike most examples, it's Played for Laughs.
  • Sexy Discretion Shot: Benny and Nina embrace passionately at the end of Act 1. At the beginning of Act 2, she pulls the following trope.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: When Nina joins Benny on his fire escape, she's wearing his shirt, making it pretty obvious what's happened between them.
  • Shout-Out: Plenty, ranging from Kiss Me Kate to Sesame Street.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Vanessa and Usnavi.
  • The Snack Is More Interesting: In "Champagne", Vanessa tries to talk to Usnavi about their relationship, but he's much more interested in opening the bottle. She eventually tells him to drop the champagne and tries to convince him not to move back to the Dominican Republic.
  • Sophisticated as Hell: all over the place, but one example stands out from the opening number. It's arguably a great summation of Lin's sensibilities.
    Usnavi: It's too darn hot like my man Cole Porter said
  • Spicy Latina: Vanessa, Camila, and Daniela.
  • Spiritual Sequel: Fans of RENT will probably become easily attached to this musical.
  • Stepford Smiler: Nina attempts to pull this off in the beginning of the show. She fails.
    Nina: Straighten the spine, smile for the neighbors/ Everything's fine, everything's cool...
  • Taxman Takes the Winnings: In the song "$96,000", where it's been announced that someone won the lottery, and everyone is fantasizing about what they'd do with the money, Usnavi points out "You'll have a knapsack full of jack after taxes".
  • Token White: Benny, who is almost always played by a black man, though theoretically could be played any other ethnicity.
    • Graffiti Pete can be any ethnicity as well, the most common being Latino and white.
  • Triumphant Reprise: The Piragua Guy gets a pretty funny one.
  • True Companions: With Abuela acting as grandmother to the street, it made everyone feel a little more like family.
  • Victorious Childhood Friend: Inferred about Usnavi/Vanessa and Nina/Benny.
  • Villainous Gentrification: Gentrification haunts the characters due to the ever-increasing cost of rent. The Hispanic inhabitants of the Heights put gentrification alongside racism and failing education in "96,000" and in "Finale," the protagonist laments that no one will remember the Heights he knew once the entire neighborhood is filled with rich hipsters.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: "Enough" is Camila chewing out Kevin and Nina—Nina for not trusting her parents enough to tell them the issues she was having at college, Kevin for being so rude to Benny and not consulting anyone before selling the family business.
  • Working Class People Are Morons: Subverted, not only by Nina but by almost every character. See Sophisticated as Hell.
  • Yiddish as a Second Language: The musical has several Latino/Latina characters use Yiddish rather believably in their daily conversations, similar to their usage of Spanglish (although less frequently, for obvious reasons). Prior to a wave of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants into the area Washington Heights was a rather Jewish neighborhood (and still is, with even a Jewish university there), and the characters probably picked it up from one of the innumerable senior citizens with a rent-controlled apartment dating back to the 40s — in which case the Lenny Bruce quote above becomes applicable.

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