On Friday, In the Heights splashes its way into theaters and HBO Max. It’s garnering rave reviews, with Vanity Fair’s chief critic Richard Lawson calling the film “a big, energizing summertime songfest” that “delivers with verve.” But for those who are intimately familiar with the Broadway musical version of In the Heights, theater, and the work of creator Lin-Manuel Miranda more generally, the sheer joy of the film is heightened by a few hidden gems scattered across the movie. Here are a few of the Easter eggs we noticed.
The “Hold Music”
While the In the Heights is jam-packed with rousing musical numbers written by Miranda, those with a sharp ear may have noticed another catchy melody from the Broadway composer popping up in an unexpected place. Early in the film, Kevin Rosario, played by Jimmy Smits, calls Stanford University to get information about paying tuition for his daughter Nina (Leslie Grace). While he’s on hold, a muzak cover of “You’ll Be Back” from Miranda’s other hit musical Hamilton plays for about 15 seconds.
It’s an instantly recognizable earworm if you know what to listen for—and given Hamilton’s ubiquitousness in culture, it’s hard to imagine you don’t. Director Jon M. Chu told The Wrap that the Hamilton soundbite was very much intentional: “That was indeed a Lin idea, and we wanted to make it a Muzak version. It’s all part of the Lin-ematic Universe.”
While technically not part of the “Lin-ematic Universe,” RuPaul’s Drag Race fans probably squealed with delight when they saw season nine’s Miss Congeniality winner Valentina pop up out of drag in the hair-salon scene. Although Valentina, whose real name is James Andrew Leyva, has no prior affiliation with In the Heights, she’s appeared in musicals before, starring as Angel in Fox’s technologically challenged production of Rent: Live in 2019. Funnily enough, the hair salon in In the Heights is run by Daniela, played by Daphne Rubin-Vega—who iconically starred as Mimi Marquez in the original Broadway cast of Rent. So, while this one isn’t Miranda related, the connection’s a fun one for musical-theater geeks.
The Broadway production of In the Heights starred Miranda as Usnavi. But for the movie, he passed down the part to Anthony Ramos, his Hamilton protégé. However, Miranda stayed involved onscreen as well as off, taking over the part of Piragüero, also known as Piragura Guy in the stage musical. Miranda’s Piragüero has one big number where he laments the rise of “Mister Softee” and his ice cream truck. And as Miranda sings about the joys of shaved ice, it’s revealed that his ice-cream nemesis is played by none other than Hamilton star Christopher Jackson—who also originated the role of Benny in the stage version of In the Heights, played by Corey Hawkins in the film. From Benny to George Washington to Mister Softee, Jackson has worn a lot of different hats for Miranda.
Christopher Jackson isn’t the only familiar face to make a cameo in the film. Grammy Award–winning Latin music superstar Marc Anthony surprisingly pops up in one of the film’s darkest moments as Gapo, the alcoholic and absentee father of 16-year-old Sonny, played by Gregory Diaz IV. Unfortunately for audience members, he doesn’t get to show off that powerhouse voice of his—and his ex-wife Jennifer Lopez does not make an appearance.
“In the Heights” Instrumental Version
Every good musical loves to bring back old melodies, and In the Heights is no different. As guests flood Abuela Claudia’s house, a familiar tune can be heard playing from a record player in the apartment. While some audience members might have trouble placing it, those who listen carefully will recognize the song as an instrumental, bossanova infused version of the movie’s opening number, “In the Heights.” The Lin-ematic Universe persists.
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