In The Heights might just be the movie of 2021. After nearly a year-and-a-half of Covid-19 lockdown, it feels like a summer-set, modern-day musical—complete with those signature catchy Lin-Manuel Miranda songs, and dancing in the street—is the exact movie everyone needs right now. And with a 97% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s received near-universal acclaim. Director Jon M. Chu—who last dazzled audiences in 2018 with Crazy Rich Asians—has proven to be the perfect director to bring a beloved Tony-winning musical to the big screen, and update it to fit our 2021 sensibilities. But he’s not working alone; the movie’s cast, made up of stars of both stage and screen, is up to the task throughout the film.
The movie’s lead feels like a natural pick, as Anthony Ramos played key supporting roles in the original cast of Miranda’s megahit musical Hamilton. But aside from him, the cast also includes faces that TV fans, movie fans, and Broadway fans all might recognize, including one key cast member who actually originated the same role in the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions of In The Heights way back in 2007 and 2008.
Some of these names may be no brainers that you’ve heard of plenty of times before—and some may get there eventually. So, without further ado, let’s take a closer look at all the performers in In The Heights who make the movie really work.
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Anthony Ramos – Usnavi de la Vega
Ramos got his first big break playing the dual roles of John Laurens/Philip Hamilton alongside Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton, and has subsequently spent the last half-decade playing memorable parts in major projects, including Mars Blackmon (Spike Lee’s original role) in the Netflix She’s Gotta Have It series, a supporting role in Bradley Cooper’s A Star Is Born, and his current role alongside Uzo Aduba in HBO’s In Treatment.
Ramos landed his first lead role with In The Heights, and leading a movie feels like a spot he won’t relinquish any time soon. Jon M, Chu compared him to Will Smith, and he’ll next be taking on some big projects: a space movie called Distant and the next Transformers film, currently filming in Canada.
Melissa Barrera – Vanessa
Barrera plays one of the lead roles in In The Heights as Vanessa, who wants nothing more in life than to leave Washington Heights and move downtown to pursue her career in fashion.
After starting her career in Mexican telenovelas, Barrera has since led the critically acclaimed series Vida on Starz. In the future, she’ll appear in the much-awaited horror sequel Scream (which we’ll refer to as Scream 5), and stick with the musical theme in an upcoming film version of Carmen.
Leslie Grace – Nina Rosario
Grace makes her acting debut as Nina Rosario in In The Heights, and she plays the role really well, in addition to her sterling singing voice. That voice shouldn’t be a surprise; before In The Heights, she was primarily known as a musical artist, who’s had a number of songs chart on the Billboard Latin charts.
Corey Hawkins – Benny
In The Heights isn’t the first movie of a musical nature to feature Corey Hawkins in a key role; he first broke through when he played Dr. Dre in the 2015 Straight Outta Compton movie. But it’s definitely the first time he’s gotten to show off his outstanding singing voice. Seriously, just try to stop listening to “Benny’s Dispatch.”
Hawkins has played a number of other major roles in the last half-decade, including some in Kong: Skull Island, BlacKkKlansman, and 6 Underground. He also played the lead role in the 24 reboot, 24: Legacy, which only lasted one season on FOX.
Daphne Rubin-Vega – Daniela
Daphne Rubin-Vega plays the lead ‘Salon lady,’ Daniela, in In The Heights, but she might just be the biggest legend of the genre in the whole cast. She originated the role of Mimi Marquez in the Broadway production of Rent, and also played Lucy in the first production of Jack Goes Boating on Broadway. She’s also made her mark on TV, too, playing roles in Smash and Katy Keene.
Stephanie Beatriz – Carla
Stephanie Beatriz’s role as Carla—another of the “Salon Ladies”—is a huge change of pace from the role most people probably know her best from: as the deadpan (and hilarious) Detective Rosa Diaz in Brooklyn Nine-Nine. She’s also appeared in movies like Short Term 12, and lended her voice to Bojack Horseman (among other TV projects).
Dascha Polanco – Cuca
Polanco is the third of the “Salon Ladies,” and she’s another face in In The Heights viewers will likely recognize best from TV. She played Daya on Orange is the New Black throughout that show’s entire run, and also played a recurring role in American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace. In 2019 she even landed a small role in Martin Scorsese’s The Irishman.
Jimmy Smits – Kevin Rosario
Smits is a universally-beloved figure in the film/television industry, and he’s really great (and a perfect fit) as Kevin Rosario in In The Heights. If we’re going to start talking about what else you may have seen him in….well. where do we even start? OG Smits fans may remember him from L.A. Law or NYPD Blue, but he also played Matt Santos on The West Wing and even played a great role for a full season of Dexter, and popped up in Sons of Anarchy. Hell, can we give this man some props for playing Bail Organa in three different Star Wars movies?
Gregory Diaz IV – Sonny de la Vega
Diaz brings the perfect attitude to his performance as Sonny, as he’s wise-cracking and hilarious, but never loses sight of the fact that he’s still just a kid. Viewers may recognize him from Vampires vs. the Bronx or a pair of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt episodes, but he’s also super prominent in the stage world, playing roles in the Broadway production of Matilda The Musical and the Off-Broadway production of Pedro Pan.
Olga Merediz – Abuela Claudia
Perhaps the most emotionally resonant and kind performance in the movie goes to Merediz as Abuela Claudia. And if it seems like she’s particularly good in the role, well, she’s got a lot of experience with it—Merediz originated the role of Abuela Claudia in the original Off-Broadway and Broadway productions of In The Heights, earning a Tony Award nomination for her trouble. She’s also appeared in both Orange is the New Black and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Marc Anthony as Mr. de la Vega
Anthony is only in one scene in In The Heights, but its a memorable one. He’s best known for his music career, as he’s a three-time Grammy winner and a six-time Latin Grammy winner who’s sold more than 12 million albums. In The Heights is his first movie since El Cantante, which he starred in alongside his then-wife Jennifer Lopez.
Lin-Manuel Miranda – Piragüero
Ever heard of this guy? Miranda became a superstar in 2015 when Hamilton blew up, but In The Heights was his first musical, and one that he first staged back in 1999 during his sophomore year of college at Wesleyan University. Miranda originated the role of Usnavi when In The Heights first debuted on Off-Broadway and Broadway, but takes a smaller role as Piragüero, aka Piragua Guy, in the film version.
He’s making his directorial debut later this year, stepping behind the camera to direct another musical, Tick…Tick…Boom! which will star Andrew Garfield.
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