' In The Heights ' begins with a man - Usnavi, played by Anthony Ramos - telling a story to a group of children, They are gathered on a patio of a bar on a palm-fringed, sun-kissed beach in the Domican Republic.

The bar is called EI Suenito, or the Little Dream, and the name is at once a clue, a spoiler and the key to themes of this exuberant and heartfelt musical.

A dream can be a fantasy or a goal, an escape or an aspiration, a rejection of the way things are or an affirmation of what could be. 

'In The Heights,' adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegeria Hudes's Tony-winning Broadway show, embraces all of these meanings. After more than a year of desultory streaming, anemic entertainment and panicky doomscrolling, it's a dream come true.

The director, Jon M. Chu [ Crazy Rich Asians ], draws on the anti-realist traditions of Hollywood song -and-dance spectacle to vault the characters [ and the audience ] into exalted realms of feeling and magic.

Two lovers step off a tenement fire escape and pirouette up and down the walls of the building in a sweet and thrilling defiance of gravity.

At the same time, this multistranded, intergenerational story about family, community and upward mobility is rooted in the real-world soil of hard work and sacrifice.

The modest dreams of Usnavi and his neighbors and friends are a reflection of a very big dream - the American one, which the film collaborates without irony even as it takes notes of certain contradictions.

We are transported from the tropical tranquility of EI Suefitto to the summertime swelter of  Washington Heights, a stretch of Upper Manhattan shadowed by the George Washington Bridge and illuminated by Hudson River sunsets. It's streets are a double-poled magnet.

In the 20th century, immigrants from the Caribbean and other parts of Latin America - including Usvai's father, now dead, and the neighborhood matriarch Abuela Claudia [Olga Merediz] were drawn by the promise of economic opportunity.

Some opened small businesses, like the bodega where Usnavi and his cousin Sonny [Gregory Diaz iV] spend their days dispensing cafe con leche, quarter waters and other staples.

Across the street is a livery cab service owned by Kevin Rosario [Jimmy Smits], who came to New York from Puerto Rico and poured  his hopes into his daughter, Nina [Leslie Grace]. The Apple of his eye and the pride of the neighborhood - ''the best of us,'' as Keevin says - Nina is a student at Stanford.

She returns home for the summer in the grip of an ambivalence that is as much a fixture of the Heights as open fire hydrants and piragua carts.

Accordingly. '' In The Heights'' organizes its busy plot around parallel love stories. Usnavi is smitten with Vanessa [ Melissa Battera ], whose dream is to move downtown to pursue a career in fashion. [ She works in the salon owned by Danuela, who is played by the great Daphne Rubin-Vega.]

Nina meanwhile, is still sweet on Benny [Corey Hawkins], her ex-boyfriend and Kevin's trusted dispatcher.

 As the weather gets hotter and a blackout approaches, the two couples sing their way longing, disappointment and bliss - not always in that order but with an ardent sincerity capable of melting the iciest heart.

Like Usnavi, the movie - bristling with ideas, verbal wit and musical invention - wears its heart on its sleeve. It also reflects his virtues : generosity, decency, hard work, pride. 

Ramos's charisma is perfectly suited to the role. His modesty is as winning and genuine as his bravado, and he's a strong theatrical singer as well as a subtle film actor. 

It would be unfair to the rest of the wonderful cast - and false to the inclusive, familial spirit that makes  '' In The Heights '' so sinning - to say he dominates the screen. He's the one who keeps the party going, and the reason it's happening at all

The dynamic choreography, by Christopher Scott, is ill served by the editing and camera movements, which hack graceful and athletic motion into a hectic collage of faces and limbs.

One notable exception - an emotional high point in the film - accompanies the song ''Paciencia y Fe,'' a lovely, piercing reminiscence of exile and adaptation, sung by Abuela Claudia. Nearing the end of her life, she recalls her emigration from Cuba as a young girl in the 1040s.

There is bitterness in the memories of what followed, alienation and hardship to go along with the patience and faith. As she sings, dancers in flowing linen robes and head-wrappings spin and lunge in vintage subway cars.

In dreams begin responsibilities.

The World Students Society thanks review author A.O.,Scott.


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