‘For the culture’: The moment arrives for ‘In the Heights’

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NEW YORK (AP) — As a student at Wesleyan, Lin-Manuel Miranda began writing what would become “In the Heights,” the musical that would launch him as a playwright and performer and that would lead, two decades later, to Jon M. Chu’s upcoming lavish big-screen adaptation. He was motivated, like any confident young artist, by ambition. But also by something else.

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“It was a lot of fear, honestly,” Miranda said in a recent interview. “I had a real wake-up call when I was 18, 19 and starting to study theater. The fear was: I’m going into a field that has no space for me, that has no roles for me. It was sort of that thing of: No one’s going to write your dream show. The cavalry isn’t coming.”

When “In the Heights” opens Friday, it may feel very much like reinforcements are arriving. The movie, a street-level song-and-dance spectacle to rival the MGM musicals of old, is an exuberant celebration of the Latino immigrant experience, of a diverse neighborhood, of a teeming summertime New York, of life.

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“In the Heights,” originally slated to be released last June, arrives already engulfed with the aura of cultural event for one of the movies’ most blatantly underseen communities. And as a big-screen party, “In the Heights” is poised to rekindle the euphoric, dancing-the-aisles theatrical experience that’s been all but snuffed out over the past year. Just how much can “In the Heights” lift up? “It’s a lot,” Miranda sighs, “to put on a musical.”

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