IN THE HEIGHTS

A scorching summer of cinema is guaranteed as this dazzling big screen adaptation of the smash Broadway musical dances into auditoriums to raise your spirits as well as the roof.

An electrical blackout on the hottest day of the year sees temperatures and tensions in New York reach boiling point in the predominantly non-white New York district of Washington Heights during a sweltering summer.

Played by supremely talented, wonderfully charismatic and unapologetically photogenic leads of Leslie Grace, Melissa Barrera, Anthony Ramos, Corey Hawkins, we follow their young adult characters as they juggle romance and careers.

While they struggle against social pressures and differing ambitions, their tight-knit local neighbourhood community is threatened by rising rents and gentrification, leading them to question their identity and futures.

Bursting with joy and optimism, it’s an emotional 21st century spin on 1961 classic West Side Story, which mines the same issues of racial tension and tolerance, but with a far more upbeat and positive finale which will have you crying, laughing and more than likely dancing in the aisles by the end.

Directed by Jon M. Chu with extraordinary pizzazz who previously made 2018’s smash hit romcom Crazy Rich Asians, it’s based on the stage musical of the same name by the gifted pairing of Quiara Alegria Hudes and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The latter appears in a small role, and previously wrote and starred in the award-winning Broadway show, Hamilton, as well as writing songs for Disney’s 2016 animated hit Moana, and starring in 2018’s Mary Poppins Returns, where he played the cheerful cockney lampie, Jack. And as ever the outrageously talented all-rounder is more than happy to let others take the spotlight.

Raucous open air dance routines, which take place in the street, in swimming pools, in basketball courts and in nightclubs, and are performed with acrobatic and passionate exuberance and skill, and nod to classic Hollywood artistes such as Fred Astaire and Busby Berkeley.

However it’s also mercifully nostalgia free and is always forward looking, with its focus on the importance of passing a ladder down to the next generation, so they too have the opportunity to build a better future. This is a vision of the American Dream which values and emphasises a strong community is essential for allowing the individual to flourish.

The upbeat toe-tapping songs are irresistible, with my favourite being the powerfully anthemic ‘Blackout’, a metaphor for the neighbourhood’s frustration and determination.

An outright and welcome condemnation of the outrageous myth of the lazy immigrant, In The Heights argues hope is key, love exists in small gestures, and the key to driving society upwards is for individuals to have a stake in that society. Plus it stresses the importance of positive role models and representation in media, and politics.

Charting the changing face of the US, In The Heights celebrates the astonishing variety of the human race, and had it been released in the summer of 2020 as originally planned, it may have been considered a boldly provocative statement to the then US president whose immigration policies it resolutely refutes. Now it feels a celebration of positivity and better times ahead.

In The Heights is romantic as hell with dance numbers which burn up the floor, and providing a perfectly executed all-singing-and-dancing antidote to a profoundly difficult year, there’s no better excuse to visit your local cinema.

Stars: 5