Lin-Manuel Miranda’s debut Broadway musical In the Heights has been given the Hollywood treatment – with a new film directed by Crazy Rich Asians filmmaker Jon M. Chu, which is set to be one of the highlights of this year’s summer blockbuster season.
The film chronicles a few days in the life of several Hispanic inhabitants of New York’s Washington Heights neighbourhood, complete with a variety of show-stopping song and dance numbers that are sure to be a feature of summertime playlists for years to come.
Production on the film took place almost two years ago, back in the summer of 2019 – but what real-world locations were used for the film? Read on for everything you need to know.
Where is In the Heights filmed?
There was only ever going to be one possible filming location for In the Heights – and that’s the neighbourhood that it is set in and named after, New York’s Washington Heights.
Miranda has described the film as “a love letter to this incredible neighbourhood” and in a recent interview with Empire he said that it was “another level of surreal to actually hear those songs sung in the place they’re about.”
According to producer Anthony Bregman, filming in the real locations was absolutely essential in terms of the film’s authenticity.
“Shooting ‘In the Heights’ in the actual Heights was key to us, because the stories being told in the screenplay are intrinsic to the community,” he said.
“The streets were busy all day and at night until the wee hours. Music was coming out of boomboxes on corners, the windows of apartments, radios in cars, underscored with car and motorcycle engines revving. It really felt like what’s said in the movie, that the streets are alive with music.”
According to production notes for the film, the design department built facades and re-dressed several buildings, including on the corner of 175th Street and Audubon where Usnavi’s bodega, Daniela’s salon and Rosario’s car service were all located.
Other scenes were filmed in downtown New York, including some of Vanessa’s scenes and the protest that Nina and Sonny attend, while the Fiesta number was filmed in an undisclosed New York dance club and the Dominican Republic-set scenes were actually filmed on Long Island beach.
And of course, while much of the film is shot on location on the streets and courtyards of the neighbourhood, some scenes were also filmed in a studio, with the salon and bodega interiors built on soundstages at the New York State Armory in Brooklyn.
The film’s centrepiece – the song and dance number 96,000 – was filmed at Highbridge Park, in a massive public pool that has been open since 1936 but has never featured on film until now.
Director Jon M. Chu revealed in an interview with Empire that he was introduced to the pool by co-writer Quiara Alegria Hudes during a neighbourhood tour, and was almost immediately convinced that he had to stage a number there inspired by Busby Berkeley musicals of the ’40s and ’50s.
“I’d never seen a pool bigger than that, and the colours just popped.” he said. “We sort of laughed it off, and then we couldn’t stop thinking about it. We were like, “You know what, we have to do that.”
And although that particular scene as it appears in the movie seems to be the embodiment of a sun-drenched New York summer, Chu said that they actually had to film in a very stop-start manner because it wouldn’t stop raining.
“Washington Heights was not just a character in our movie, but a crew member, a cast member that would have tantrums at moments,” he said. “And we had to listen to it, because it was the star of our movie!”
Ahead of the release, one of the film’s stars Daphne Rubin-Vega told RadioTimes.com and other press that shooting in the real locations was one of the things that made working on the film so special.
“Actually shooting in a real location is part of the magical extra element,” she said. “It would not have been In the Heights if it had been shot on a soundstage or in Toronto or Vancouver, I mean it’s In the Heights!
“So what happens is we’re learning the choreography in a contained space in a studio, but when it’s go time, when it’s showtime, it’s time to implement everything that we learned.
“And unlike theatre, once it’s shot it must be forgotten otherwise we go crazy – it’s not like we can come back and do it again. So of course it’s different to do it on the concrete in the real place, but we were all so ready to just bring it and come with it, and it was all good. Nothing like shooting in the real place!”
One other interesting bit of trivia to know about production is that, incredibly, filming took place just a few blocks away from another movie musical – Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story remake.
And indeed Miranda has explained that he visited Spielberg’s set during the production, explaining, “If Steven Spielberg is on 177th street, you go!”