Cinematographer Alice Brooks on Lighting the Real Heights of “In the Heights”

Susannah Edlebaum

June 14, 2021

In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton musical transformed into a film by screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes and director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) is set over a handful of days at the height of summer in Washington Heights. The action is centered on two would-be couples, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace). Usnavi, an orphan and bodega owner who dreams of life in the Dominican Republic, is too bashful to pursue Vanessa, who’s concerned with leaving the salon where she works for a career in fashion design and an apartment downtown. Nina is the pride of the neighborhood, but after a harrowing first year at Stanford, she’s struggling to reveal that she may be returning to 175th St. for good. Benny, her ex, is still smitten, but Kevin (Jimmy Smits), Nina’s father and Benny’s boss at the local taxi service, doesn’t approve. At the center of the community is Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), an elderly Cuban matriarch universally beloved by all. On the comedic side, Miranda makes periodic appearances as a disgruntled piragua seller in an ongoing feud with the local Mr. Softee, while far more seriously, Usnavi’s young employee, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), grapples with the personal implications of the politics swirling around DACA.

In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton musical transformed into a film by screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes and director Jon M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) is set over a handful of days at the height of summer in Washington Heights. The action is centered on two would-be couples, Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa (Melissa Barrera), and Benny (Corey Hawkins) and Nina (Leslie Grace). Usnavi, an orphan and bodega owner who dreams of life in the Dominican Republic, is too bashful to pursue Vanessa, who’s concerned with leaving the salon where she works for a career in fashion design and an apartment downtown. Nina is the pride of the neighborhood, but after a harrowing first year at Stanford, she’s struggling to reveal that she may be returning to 175th St. for good. Benny, her ex, is still smitten, but Kevin (Jimmy Smits), Nina’s father and Benny’s boss at the local taxi service, doesn’t approve. At the center of the community is Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz), an elderly Cuban matriarch universally beloved by all. On the comedic side, Miranda makes periodic appearances as a disgruntled piragua seller in an ongoing feud with the local Mr. Softee, while far more seriously, Usnavi’s young employee, Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), grapples with the personal implications of the politics swirling around DACA.