Massive spoilers ahead for In the Heights. Don’t read on if you haven’t seen it!
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a multi-talent that has been involved in countless projects over the past few years. This is in no small part due to the massive global success of Hamilton, but his first Broadway musical was In the Heights. That Tony Award winning piece has been adapted for film by Crazy Rich Asian director Jon M. Chu, and there were a number of changes made to the source material. This includes In the Heights’ ending, which is different from the stage musical in a few ways.
Adapting a full length musical for film is always a difficult task. Usually a number of songs and scenes are cut to shorten the runtime which is true for In the Heights. But despite this, the characters created by Lin-Manuel Miranda still feel fleshed out. And the movie’s ending is sure to keep casual and hardcore fans on their toes.
How The In the Heights Movie Ends
Throughout In the Heights’ runtime, the story being told comes from Anthony Ramos’ protagonist Usnavi speaking to a group of young kids on a beach. This allows for Jon M. Chu’s magical direction to take center stage, although hardcore fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical were surprised to see that he’d seemingly left Washington Heights. Since Usnavi spends much of the show/musical talking about wanting to get back to the Dominican Republic, the movie’s ending was seemingly confirmed from its very opening scene.
But just as Usnavi is planning to finally depart toward the end of In the Heights, we see that the beach might not be all that it seems. Sonny (Gregory Diaz IV), Vanessa (Melissa Barrera) and Graffiti Pete (Noah Catala) surprise him with a makeover of his bodega, painted to look like his photos of the beach in the DR. From there said beach starts to fade away; we see a New York Lotto sign behind Usnavi. It turns out that he didn’t leave at all, instead bringing memories and love for his family's origin to his life in the barrio.
But the surprises don’t stop there. It turns out that the narration has been happening in a fast forward, set years after the events of In the Heights. The little girl who loved his story was his daughter with Vanessa. She apparently didn’t move downtown after all, with the family settled in their neighborhood signature. Usanvi’s true sueñito ended up being his family all along.
How In The Heights’ Stage Musical Ends
While most of the beats of In the Heights the stage musical happen in the movie, plot points and musical numbers were altered in order to make it a cohesive film. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical doesn’t feature Usnavi speaking to any children, instead communicating as a narrator directly with the audience during the show’s opening and closing numbers. He and Vanessa have similar roadblocks to their relationship, including Usnavi’s plans to move back to the Dominican Republic.
In the Heights doesn’t originally feature a story about Sonny’s immigration status either, and we never meet his father (played in the movie by Marc Anthony). This was added by Lin-Manuel Miranda and screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes to adapt the musical for today, in a plot point about the DREAM Act. And since the musical doesn’t feature a flash forward, we don’t get to see the happily married version of Usnavi and Vanessa. Or their thoroughly adorable daughter who is seen in the finale.
When the trailer for In the Heights first arrived, I was shocked that we saw footage of Usnavi on a beach given how the musical ended. Others were no doubt as shocked, allowing Jon M. Chu, Lin-Manuel Miranda and company to provide a few surprises for even the most hardcore fans of the stage musical.
Other Big Changes To In The Heights’ Ending
Of course, Usnavi and Vanessa weren’t the only character of In the Heights to be greatly changed during the course of Jon M. Chu’s movie version. After all, the stage musical is set over two days and one night, while the movie plays out across multiple days and features a few flash forwards. As such, the love story between Nina and Benny (Leslie Grace and Corey Hawkins) plays out quite differently as well.
Nina and Benny don’t fall in love right in front of our eyes; they already have a history when they cross paths in the song “Benny’s Dispatch.” What’s more, their final love song “When The Sun Goes Down” is handled quite differently. It’s actually set after the first jump, at the end of the summer. It proves that Benny and Nina aren’t just a fling, and are seemingly committed to making a long distance relationship work as she returns to Stanford.
The lead characters of In the Heights also form more of a chosen family unit in the film version. All of the named characters including the salon ladies attend dinner at Abuela Claudia's house, and Daphne Rubin-Vega's Daniela functions as another matriarch unit for the group. The interpersonal relationships feel much more intimate, and it doesn't seem like Daniela moving the salon is going to stop them from seeing each other. Of course, Usnavi's plans to go to the Dominican Republic obviously presented a much more significant obstacle.
In the Heights was changed considerably from Lin-Manuel Miranda's stage musical, and said alterations happen throughout the runtime rather than simply during the ending. Nina's mother was cut altogether, songs are in different order while others are cut, and characters are given different relationships. So if you liked the movie version, be sure to check out the original Broadway Cast Recording to hear all the changes made to the award winning source material.
In the Heights is out now in theaters. You can also watch In The Heights streaming on HBO Max (with the ad-free plan). Be sure to check out the 2021 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience.