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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
Pop the grate at the crack of dawn
Sing while I wipe down the awning
Hey, y’all, good morning!"

So begins the first song in In the Heights, a musical written by Lin-Manuel Miranda that unfolds over three days in a Dominican American neighborhood within the namesake Washington Heights of NYC around Independence Day. After a 2005 tryout in Connecticut and a 2007 Off-Broadway run, the show opened on Broadway in March 2008.

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.

Miranda wrote the first draft of In the Heights while at college, and upon playing an 80-minute one-act version of it at his college's theater company, he was approached with the opportunity to expand the play to a Broadway production. Notable for being the first Broadway musical of its kind — a combination of R&B, hip-hop and Latin music — the play was nominated for 13 Tony Awards, winning four (including Best Musical), and kickstarted Miranda's career.

A film adaptation of the play was released on June 11, 2021 in theaters and on HBO Max after a laborious production, fluctuating in and out of Development Hell for over a decade, as the adaptation rights were acquired in 2008. The adaptation was directed by Jon M. Chu; Anthony Ramos stars as Usnavi, Melissa Barrera plays Vanessa, Leslie Grace plays Nina, Corey Hawkins plays Benny, and Miranda (who played Usnavi in the original Broadway run) appears as Piragua Guy.

Provides examples of:

  • Arc Words:
    • "No pare, sigue sigue!" meaning "Don't stop, continue, continue!" which encourages the two main characters, Usnavi and Nina, in "Hundreds of Stories" and "When You're Home" respectively. note 
    • "Yeah, I'm a streetlight": Benny first calls Usnavi a streetlight, as in he's stuck to his corner store as the world moves around him. At the end of the show, Usnavi embraces the term, using his permanent role in the barrio as an illuminator for everyone's stories.
  • Author Avatar: Being a New York-born person with Puerto Rican parentage, insecure about her heritage but welcomed by the Latino population, and being The One Who Made It Out, Nina is this for Lin-Manuel Miranda, as confirmed by himself in the ten year anniversary reunion.
  • Bad Date: When Usnavi and Vanessa go out to the club, Usnavi gets nervous about his dancing skills and takes shots with Benny while Vanessa dances with other people. Then Benny punches someone for dancing with Nina. Then the power goes out.
  • Bait-and-Switch: In the beginning of Act II, Nina asks Benny if he's ready to "try again", to which he responds "I think I'm ready". Since she's wearing his shirt as she says it, it originally seems that Benny had some trouble in bed, but it turns out she's actually quizzing him on his Spanish vocabulary.
  • 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.
  • Big Blackout: The blackout. Suddenly being plunged into darkness in the middle of a crowded club full of drunk people, as everyone tries to find their friends, then Nina's parents scrambles to find her, and unable to reach her because all the phone lines are down.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: And since the character in question is Benny, it often overlaps with Black Is Bigger in Bed.
    Daniela: They say he's got quite a
    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. Sonny at least gets some of the lottery money, and Usnavi agrees to stay in Washington Heights, so he gets what he wants.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Camila tears into both Nina and Kevin in "Enough" by pointing out how they've both done things to upset one another. Kevin's unilateral decision to sell the cab company for Nina's tuition put an unfair amount of stress on her, and was quite disrespectful to Camila, the co-owner. Add this to his cold treatment of Benny, and Nina has every right to be angry with him. On the other hand, Nina lied to her parents for months on end about still attending college. She may have wanted to avoid worrying them, but Camila and Kevin feel betrayed nonetheless.
  • Broken Record: Camilla's favorite record is a bolero song, and her favorite part is when the record scratches and the singer says "para siempre" over and over again. This is also how the finale starts.
  • Busby Berkeley Number: "96,000" in the movie takes place by the pool and involves this.
  • Calling the Young Man Out: The second half of "Enough" is this, with Camila calling out Nina for not returning home during the blackout and previously hiding that she had dropped out after losing her scholarship, since Camila and her father have worked so hard to help her all these years.
  • Casting Gag: The film has Lin-Manuel Miranda and Christopher Jackson as rivals Piragua Guy and Mr. Softee respectively. They played Usnavi and Benny respectively in the OBC.
  • 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
    • Graffiti Pete mentions he's bought Roman candles and fireworks to celebrate the Fourth. He uses them to fend off would-be looters from the bodega when Sonny refuses to leave the store during the blackout. While the looters succeed in taking the cash register, Usnavi is a little surprised they didn't take more if saddened at how low people sunk during an emergency.
  • 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.
    • Daniela 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.
  • Dingy Trainside Apartment: Vanessa lives in one of these, as mentioned in the song "It Won't Be Long Now". She's gotten used to it, but she still wants out of the neighborhood:
    The elevated train by my window
    Doesn't faze me anymore
    The rattling screams don't disrupt my dreams
    It's a lullaby, in its way
    The elevated train drives everyone insane
    But I don't mind, oh no
    [...] And one day, I'm hopping that elevated train and I'm riding away!
  • Dumbass Has a Point: More like "kid has a point". Usnavi eventually acknowledges that Sonny is right that the money won from the lottery can help the barrio, and plans to give Sonny a share so that he can make the change that he wants to see. That doesn't change after Abuela dies.
  • '80s Hair: Nina sings of the ladies at Daniela'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.
  • Fireworks of Love: Act 1 ends on Nina and Benny's Big Damn Kiss while Graffiti Pete's fireworks go off behind them.
  • Foreshadowing: Abuela Claudia cries out, "Alabanza!" during "96,000" when everyone finds out that someone won the lottery. Usnavi said that he would give a portion of the winnings to her as thanks for being his parent. She was one of three winners for the ticket.
  • Fulton Street Folly: Averted. This is one of the very few pieces in any medium to take place above the Central Park line of Manhattan (the most notable exception being stories about a poor and crime-ridden Harlem). Accordingly, and since Miranda is well-known for his love for his home neighborhood, the film version was shot entirely in the real-life Washington Heights, with local residents filling in as extras.
  • 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.
  • Graceful Loser: Everyone in the barrio is excited at the possibility that they may have won the lottery. When Usnavi announces that Abuela Claudia was the winner at the Carnaval, everyone whoops and cheers because they find she was very deserving. It makes their shock sadder when, shortly after finding out, the dispatch announces that she passed away.
  • Grass Is Greener: Usnavi mentions his parents immigrated with him from the Dominican Republic to give him a better life. He wants to return to the Dominican Republic to find out who he is, and where his home is.
  • 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 are the queens of this. They even have two separate songs about them telling the neighborhood gossip.
  • Happily Married: Kevin and Camila.
  • Heat Wave: One is currently happening in the Heights during the time of the show. While the Piragua Guy appreciates it, it also makes the blackout worse and contributes to Abuela Claudia’s death.
  • Heaven Above: Abuela Claudia has a habit of saying "Alabanza" and holding up whatever she has in her hand. In act 2, we learn she does this to "hold it up to God's face and say, 'Praise to this.'" Turns out God's face is in Heaven with the Abuela's birds, alongside Abuela herself in Act 2, which prompts all the characters to sing "Alabanza" to the skies.
  • Head-Turning Beauty: 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.
    • The movie's trailer has the line "This is gonna be an emotional roller-coaster" played over Abuela Claudia's candlelight vigil, then Usnavi and Sonny hugging each other.
  • Like Brother and Sister: Nina and Usnavi have this dynamic.
  • Line-of-Sight Name: Usnavi, named for a US Navy ship that passed by. Overlaps with Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?.
  • The Loins Sleep Tonight: Subverted. Nina asks Benny if he's ready to "try again" after it's very clear they had sex offstage, but it turns out she's talking about testing his Spanish proficiency.
  • 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".
  • Maybe Ever After: Usnavi and Vanessa in "Finale":
    Usnavi: And let me set the record straight, I'm steppin' to Vanessa, I'm gettin' a second date!
  • Meaningful Background Event: Near the end of "Carnaval del Barrio", as the residents are still celebrating, Nina frantically runs out of Abuela Claudia's house and gets Usnavi to go with her. The next song is "Atención", in which Kevin announces on the dispatch that "Abuela Claudia passed away at noon today."
  • Mood Whiplash: A few examples, the biggest being "Atención" (and "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. Benny also gets on it when he says that everyone’s proud of her.
  • 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.
  • Please, Don't Leave Me: Both Vanessa and Sonny beg Usnavi to not move back to the Dominican Republic. He eventually changes his mind and decides to stay.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Sonny belongs in this role, with his youth often coming at the butt 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. At the end, however, he gets a portion of the lottery winnings to help the neighborhood.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: See Evolving Music above.
  • Rhyming with Itself: On at least one occasion, where “life” is rhymed with “life”. “Sun” being rhymed with “son” may also count.
  • 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 Daniela 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. Even the opening song's clave percussion refers back to the same in West Side Story's "America".
  • Shrine to the Fallen: Graffiti Pete makes one at Sonny's request. They paint a mural of Abuela Claudia with the caption "paciencia y fe" over the bodega. This convinces Usnavi to stay in Washington Heights.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man: Vanessa and Usnavi.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Depending on the production, Act II opens with Benny sitting on the fire escape smoking right before he's joined by Nina wearing his shirt.
  • 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 (though in part that's because he's never opened one, doesn't know how to do it, and the mechanism that came with the bottle might be broken). 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: Oh my god, it's gotten 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".
  • Throw the Dog a Bone: Sonny wants to use the lottery winnings to improve the neighborhood if he or Usnavi get the ticket, and he wants Usnavi to stay. He gets both of his wishes at the end, where Usnavi gives him a portion of the winnings and agrees to stay rather than move back to the Dominican Republic.
  • Token White: Benny, who is almost always played by a black man, though theoretically could be played any other ethnicity besides Latino.
    • 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 in Act II.
    Piragua Guy: It's hotter than the islands are today,
    and Mr. Softee's truck has broken down!
    And here come all his customers my way,
    I told you I run this town!
  • True Companions: With Abuela acting as grandmother to the street, it made everyone feel a little more like family.
  • Unusual Euphemism: If the gossipy salon ladies are to be believed, Benny is packing a big... taxi/a stretch limousine.
  • 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.
  • Wham Line: A few of them.
    • From "Paciena y Fe" (Abuela Claudia's big solo):
      Claudia: And ay Mamá, what do you do when your dreams come true?
      I've spent my life inheriting dreams from you.
      What do I do with this winning ticket?
    • During dinner, Kevin reveals how he's going to pay for Nina's schooling; she and Camila don't take the news very well.
      Kevin: So today I put down my shovel again, hitched a ride into town, and I took another leap of faith. Nina, I sold the business to pay for your tuition.
    • There's this gut punch at the end of "Atención".
      Kevin: Atención, atención,
      please drive slow.
      Let everybody know
      Abuela Claudia passed away
      at noon today
    • Upon seeing Graffiti Pete's mural of Abuela Claudia, Usnavi makes a decision.
      Usnavi: There goes my flight.
  • 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: Averted, not only by Nina but by almost every character. See Sophisticated as Hell.
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: Zigzagged. In "Carnaval de Barrio," Usnavi celebrates that he, Abuela Claudia and Sonny have all won the lottery are splitting the winnings to fulfill their dreams. Then he finds out that Abuela died, and you know he would trade in all the money to have her back. He starts crying as he asks why she didn't take her medicine.
  • 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.


Video Example(s):


The Rosarios vs Kevin Rosario

The film adaptation of In the Heights cut out Nina's mother. Compare the introduction of two parents in the play to the introduction of one parent in the movie.

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