Many people have been raving about the fairly new Broadway musical Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which leads to more fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda. I'm a hipster fan of this genius man, though, because I knew him in his In the Heights days. In the Heights, you ask? What is this piece of rap-filled beauty a fangirl like me knows all the words to? Well, let me tell you.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote In the Heights, a musical about a barrio (neighborhood) in NYC full of colorful Hispanic characters, in 1999 after he was inspired by the musical Rent. He wanted a Rent with people he identified with. Two-year-old me didn't know that fifteen-year-old me wanted that as well. Lin-Manuel Miranda, being a Puerto Rican immigrant himself, is a role model for all of us.
The story follows Usnavi (His parents named him when they saw a ship with the words US Navy across it, and if you're Hispanic and don't find that funny, I don't know what funny is). He's an immigrant from the Dominican Republic (Represent!) whose parents have passed away, and he longs to return. Other story lines stream through; Puerto Rican Nina fears she will fail in college, hairdresser Vanessa wants to leave the ghetto barrio, and all of the Heights inhabitants want to win a lottery of 96,000 dollars. Everything is bright and colorful and dramatic and aaaah!
I am not one for rap—never was, never will be. But In the Heights is different. It's a rap-filled musical and I know every single word to the first song, which warrants strange looks from friends when I perform it. Especially the line: "Cuz I immigrated from the single greatest little place in the Caribbean, Dominican Republic!" Any music lover can love this. That is what's beautiful about what Lin-Manuel Miranda can do: transform rap into a wonderful way of storytelling.
The most important part of the musical for me though is the representation. We Hispanics don't get a lot in the way of movies, books, or musicals. This was a breath of fresh air. I got every inside joke, understood every Spanish word, and almost teared up when Usnavi raises his Dominican flag.
In the Heights is a beautiful musical that is Lin-Manuel Miranda's first love. Sure, there is Hamilton, and I'm sure there will be many more afterwards, but In the Heights will always hold a special place in my heart.