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BWW Album Review: IN THE HEIGHTS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is Captivating and Gorgeous

The album clips along with mirth and will leave listeners dancing and singing along.

By: Jun. 11, 2021
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BWW Album Review: IN THE HEIGHTS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is Captivating and Gorgeous  Image

Perhaps the most magical thing about IN THE HEIGHTS is the palpable joy that emanates from the show, regardless of how you are experiencing it. After studying the Original Broadway Cast Recording for years, IN THE HEIGHTS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) is a wonderfully welcome treat. Getting to experience the energy that new arrangements and new voices brings to the beloved material is a delight from beginning to end. Even if the movie's reduced tracklist feels more like a "highlights" album, the record clips along with mirth and will easily have listeners dancing and singing along.

The first thing that die hard fans of the stage musical will notice is that several of the songs have been moved to new locations, but that doesn't disrupt the flow of the storytelling that occurs as we bounce from one tune to the next. Next, there are several lyric changes that stand out. The most noticeable changes are bits and problematic references that haven't aged as well as the rest of the material. For example, the mention of Donlad Trump and the "Yo, I got more hoes than a phonebook in Tokyo" lyric in "96,000" have been completely replaced. And, honestly, they aren't missed. Additionally, the frantic and frenetic layering in "Blackout" has been reduced to ensure that the plot elements that the film chooses to highlight are given prominence. Several of the side plot portions that we're used to hearing on the Original Broadway Cast Recording have been completely excised, yet the original ambience and mood of the number remains, and the film's "Blackout" is highly effective.

The vocal performances across the album are spectacular, and each brings stunning new life to this beloved collection of dreamers. As Usnavi, Anthony Ramos is an engaging and ebullient narrator that we can't help but love and root for. Corey Hawkins's Benny is endearing, kind, and warmly romantic. As Nina, Leslie Grace takes listeners on a journey from wistful to empowered. Melissa Barrera's Vanessa is savvy and strong. Gregory Diaz IV's street smart Sonny comes across a little rougher around the edges than his Broadway counterpart, but he is still utterly charming when he needs to be.

Likewise, Olga Merediz, the original Broadway cast's Abuela Claudia, reprises her role with poise and grace, and delivers a new rendition of "Paciencia y Fe" that offers more layers, more nuance, and is ultimately more remarkable than I could have ever imagined. Broadway royalty Daphne Rubin-Vega steps into the role of Daniela, bringing her signature smoky vocal tones to one of the most fabulous and commanding female characters ever written. Stephanie Beatriz as Carla and Dascha Polanco as Cuca are effervescent fun. Shifting from originating the starring role to taking on the role of Piraguero, Lin-Manuel Miranda is in his element on "Piragua," ensuring the thematically rich number is truly vibrant.

I can't comment on how these songs work in the context of the film as I have yet to see it; however, listening to IN THE HEIGHTS (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), makes me certain that the film is as captivating and gorgeous as we have dreamed it to be. It is abundantly clear that great care was taken in preserving the qualities that made the Broadway version of the show so memorable and magical while re-orchestrating and re-writing these songs for the film idiom. As far as film soundtracks go IN THE HEIGHTS is among the best and will be an album that many, myself included, will happily revisit many times throughout this summer and the remainder of our lives.


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