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There are Broadway success stories, and then there's Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. The hip hop musical about the titular founding father and his work shaping the country became a pop culture sensation following its Broadway opening in 2015. And now all Disney+ subscribers can be in the room where it happens thanks the Hamilton movie that recently arrived on streaming. The filmed stage adaptation exceeded every possible expectation, but I've got a scorching hot Hamil-take. Namely, that Miranda's first musical In the Heights is superior.
Before I the comment section blows up, I have nothing but good things to say about Hamilton. It's objectively genius level writing work by Lin-Manuel Miranda, who also leads the cast and gives an emotional performance as Alexander. And while I wept consistently throughout the movie and have listened to the soundtrack countless times, In the Heights still takes the cake for me. Let me explain why.
Lin-Manuel Miranda burst onto Broadway with his first musical In the Heights, which contained the writer's signature use of rap and stunning melodies that can bring you to tears. The show was a huge success and won four Tony Awards including Best Musical. While the show covers far less ground than Hamilton, I find it to a more emotionally compelling experience. Mostly because In the Heights shows us the story's action, while often Hamilton tells us about it.
What I mean is that many of Hamilton's gorgeous music uses narration by the cast. Since the show covers so many years, the ensemble of characters are tasked with providing exposition for the audience, while also sharing their character's inner monologue and perspective on the Hamilton's events. It's obviously effective and the musical is stunning, but In the Heights' simplicity was a far more visceral emotional experience for me.
Hamilton is currently available to watch exclusively on Disney+. You can use this link to sign up for the new streaming service.
In the Heights' opening and closing numbers feature the protagonist Usnavi (originally played by Lin-Manuel Miranda himself) doing some narration and setting up the various denizens of el barrio. But aside from those two songs, the show doesn't use that plot device, with the audience able to watch the story play out in more "real time." As such, we watch each emotional connection play out without anyone speaking directly to the audience and telling us why it's important.
In the Heights is also a book musical, which once again gives the story more room to breathe. What this means it that the show (and upcoming movie adaptation) contains scenes and dialogue, as well as musical numbers. It allows moments of silence, and the show's pace to ebb and glow when appropriate. In contrast, Hamilton has so many years and events to cover, that the show doesn't have the privilege of stillness. There's simply too much (gorgeous) material to get through.
Because of this, I'm eager to see what Crazy Rich Asians director John M. Chu has in store for the upcoming In the Heights movie. Rather than a filmed stage performance, this is a bonafide musical blockbuster, which was supposed to originally arrive this summer before theaters were closed. The news of its year-long delay was a bummer, but luckily fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda's work were treated to Hamilton early on Disney+. Seems like a fair trade. Both Miranda and Hamilton actor Anthony Ramos will both appear in the In the Heights movie, with Ramos taking on the lead role of Usnavi.
Of course, my Hamil-take is totally based on my own opinions and how much I personally got invested in seeing both of Lin-Manuel Miranda's Broadway musicals. And although I prefer In The Heights as a whole, you can't deny the genius that is Hamilton. And even if I did, I think the countless Disney+ subscribers who have already watched the Hamilton movie would probably take me to task.
Hamilton is currently streaming in full on Disney+, while In the Heights will arrive in theaters June 18th, 2021. In the meantime, check out our 2020 release list to plan your next trip to the movies.