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Is there any better way to kick off summer than with a rousing movie musical? Jon M. Chu's In the Heights is now in theaters and on HBO Max, and it promises to be 2021's first major movie event. There's singing, dancing (on the sides of buildings, in subway cars, and underwater), and a heartwarming story about community and just how far your dreams will take you — around the block or beyond the George Washington Bridge.
Adapted from the Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, the movie version brings together a sprawling cast of Latinx talent — fans of the stage show might even recognize a few familiar faces in parts big and small — each ready to leave their mark on Hollywood.
So scrape out a nice cold cup of piragua and let's dive into the cast of In the Heights.
Anthony Ramos as Usnavi de la Vega
As the film's central figure, we're introduced to the lively Upper Manhattan neighborhood of Washington Heights through Usnavi's eyes. The son of Dominican immigrants, Usnavi owns a local bodega, but he dreams of returning to his family's maritime homeland in the Caribbean. In the meantime, he keeps the block supplied with an abundance of cafe con leche (light and sweet!), cold waters, and lottery tickets. And when he's not making heart eyes at Vanessa, the enterprising small business owner is trying not to embarrass himself by dancing like "a drunk Chita Rivera."
Tony-winning composer and lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda starred as Usnavi in the musical's original Broadway run. Now, it's Miranda's good friend — and fellow Hamilton star — Anthony Ramos who's stepping into the role. The 29-year-old Brooklyn native is poised to have a breakout moment thanks to In the Heights. The actor and R&B singer (his second album, Love and Lies, arrives later this month) already has some major opportunities lined up, like the lead role in the next Transformers installment.
You can currently watch him, opposite Uzo Aduba, on HBO's In Treatment.
Melissa Barrera as Vanessa
Vanessa is an uptown girl with downtown aspirations. When we first meet the budding fashion designer, she's ready to get on that downtown train and not look back — all she needs is to pass her credit check and secure a lease in New York City's ridiculous rental market (it's harder than you think). It's not that Vanessa wants to forget where she came from; she's just yearning for new challenges, and the trendy neighborhoods of downtown Manhattan are where creativity blooms. Or so they say.
Melissa Barrera is a Mexican actor who got her start on telenovelas, including Tanto Amor and Siempre Tuya Acapulco. After moving to Los Angeles, she landed the role of Lyn in Starz's Vida. The 30-year-old will next star in the forthcoming film Carmen with Normal People hunk Paul Mescal, Scream 5 alongside Courteney Cox, and the Netflix series Breathe.
Like Vanessa, she wants to take control of her own career. "I want to start producing content," she told Schön! in 2019. "That's another way to ensure that the stories that are being told about the Latinx community are the kind of representation we deserve."
Corey Hawkins as Benny
Benny works for Mr. Rosario as a taxi dispatcher, updating drivers about incoming traffic and other essential information throughout the day. He's confident, charismatic, and completely in love with Nina Rosario — his boss's daughter. The two were high school sweethearts until Nina moved to California to attend university at Stanford. When she returns to spend a sweltering summer back home, he does his best to woo her.
Corey Hawkins is best known for playing Dr. Dre in the 2015 drama Straight Outta Compton. The 32-year-old Juilliard graduate also appeared in Spike Lee's BlacKkKlansman, Michael Bay's 6 Underground, the blockbuster Kong: Skull Island, and was the star of the Fox primetime series 24: Legacy. He'll next appear alongside Oscar winners Denzel Washington and Frances McDormand in The Tragedy of Macbeth.
Leslie Grace as Nina Rosario
As the first in her family to go to college, ambitious Nina feels an enormous amount of pressure to succeed at Stanford — for her family, and for the neighborhood. Her biggest fear is disappointing her dad, who's sacrificed so much to pay for her education. But the reality is that the culture at Stanford was a lot harder to adapt to than she thought, and now she has to face her fears (and her dad).
Leslie Grace is a Bronx-born, Florida-raised singer who made her mainstream debut with a bilingual cover of The Shirelles' "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" in 2012. (She also released a clubby dance version, which we highly recommend.) She's released two Spanish-language studio albums and collaborated with artists like Becky G, Maluma, and K-pop group Super Junior. In the Heights marks her first starring role in a feature film!
Meanwhile, Young Nina is played by 13-year-old Ariana Greenblatt, who's a total star in the making. Keep her on your radar.
Stephanie Beatriz as Carla
A hairstylist at the local salon — the central hub of all of the good neighborhood gossip — Carla is the owner Daniela's girlfriend. And she makes it her business to know everyone else's business. Carla and Daniela's coupling is a new addition to the film version; in Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes's stage musical, Carla and Daniela are just coworkers who love to gossip.
For Brooklyn Nine-Nine star Stephanie Beatriz, who portrays Carla in the film adaptation, it's a change she's proud to celebrate. “What was so gratifying to me as a person who is queer is to see this relationship in the film be part of the fabric of the community,” Beatriz said at a press event, as reported by Playbill.com, “and to be normal, and be happy and functioning, and part of the quilt they’ve all created."
"So much of this film is about where home is and who home is to you," she added. "And for Carla, Daniela is home. Wherever Daniela is, that’s where Carla feels at home."
Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela
Carla's other half Daniela is the owner of the salon and the biggest gossip in the neighborhood. Even though the salon is a beloved fixture in Washington Heights, Daniela contemplates moving because of the skyrocketing rent prices in Manhattan. (This is your reminder that gentrification is bad!)
Daphne Rubin-Vega is an icon of the stage. The 51-year-old singer and actor is best known for originating the iconic role of Mimi in Rent, and she's also appeared in a number of screen roles — including the Sex and the City movie, the musical series Smash, and the short-lived Katy Keene. On stage, she's performed in everything from Les Misérables to The Rocky Horror Show.
Dascha Polanco as Cuca
A brand-new character for the film, Cuca is a vivacious and fun-loving hairstylist and manicurist at Daniela's salon. She's the life of the party — or, rather, the carnaval del barrio.
Dascha Polanco's breakout role was Daya in Netflix's smash hit Orange Is the New Black. Since then, she's appeared in Russian Doll, American Crime Story, Joy, and When They See Us.
In an interview with Refinery29, Polanco said stepping into the role of a cosmetologist was personal to her, as her aunt owns a salon. "It’s a cultural thing for the Latinx community," she said. "These are the women and the places that we go to on a weekly basis, and they see us grow up and they give us advice or they tattletale on you to your mom. But most importantly, they start off with a dream and they own something in a foreign country, [an idea] that for them was never possible… It starts off with a dream, of hope, of pushing through adversity and creating these neighborhoods."
Gregory Diaz IV as Sonny de la Vega
As Usnavi's scrappy younger cousin, Sonny works part-time at the bodega. He's a little mischievous, and a bit of a smartmouth teen, but he's always there to help when Sonny needs him.
At just 16 years old, Gregory Diaz IV is making his big-screen debut in In the Heights — but the Broadway kid has been dreaming of this moment for as long as he can remember. Or, at least since the age of 10, when he saw a performance of Matilda on Broadway that opened his eyes and ears to the world of musical theatre. After a round of auditions and some "fangirling on the inside," the native New Yorker received a personal FaceTime call from his hero Miranda to tell him he landed part of Sonny in the film.
While landing the role of a lifetime at 16 is undoubtedly a huge deal, the teen is more excited for everyone to experience the wonders of his city. "Seeing all the positive responses that we’re getting right now," he told The New York Post, "I think the film is a forerunner to the idea that [New York is] coming back."
Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia
Abuela Claudia is the heart of the neighborhood who everyone comes to for love and support (and warm hugs). She practically raised the block — she helped Nina with her homework (even if she didn't understand it); she cared for Usnavi after his parents' passing; and she has enough paciencia y fe (patience and faith) for the entire barrio. She immigrated from Cuba as a child with her mother, and she's been cleaning homes and working hard ever since. But even Abuela Claudia isn't immune to the allure of a daily lottery ticket. She views it as a one-way express ticket to the American dream.
Olga Merediz has been part of In the Heights since its initial readings and workshops. She originated the role of Abuela Claudia and played the role for the entirety of its Broadway run. In fact, Miranda couldn't see anyone else stepping into Abuela's chancletas. "I definitely felt very attached to this character," Merediz told EW. "I felt I gave a part of myself. I took parts of my family, of the matriarchs in my family, my aunts, my grandmothers, my friend's mothers, and I felt like I created this quintessential Latina matriarch, but she could be anybody's abuela really."
Some of Merediz's other Broadway credits include Mamma Mia!, Les Misérables, and Man of La Mancha.
Lin-Manuel Miranda as Piragüero
Piragua, piragua! Piragüero (otherwise known as "Piragua Guy") is a neighborhood vendor who sells ice-cold piragua, or Puerto Rican shaved ice, to the kids on the block. But with Mister Softee encroaching on his home turf, Piragüero wonders how long he'll be able to keep scraping by.
Miranda needs no introduction, but we'll give you one anyway. Miranda wrote the earliest draft of In the Heights during his sophomore year of college in 1999. He eventually brought it to Off-Broadway in 2007 and Broadway in 2008, where he originated the role of Usnavi. And while Miranda is probably more famous for his other Broadway musical Hamilton, In the Heights will always be his beloved first child.
In recent years, the 41-year-old multi-hyphenate has turned to acting, starring in Mary Poppins Returns, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, and His Dark Materials. He's also composed music for Disney’s Moana and the forthcoming Encanto — which could earn him his first Oscar and the official title of EGOT (he has won three Tonys, three Grammys, and an Emmy). Miranda will also release his directorial debut this year with Tick, Tick… Boom!, an adaptation of Jonathan Larson's 1990 musical. To put it simply, LMM is booked and busy.
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Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: “In the Heights” Star Gregory Diaz IV Talks Sonny, That Pool Scene, and Telling Meaningful Stories
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue