From stage to screen

Katie Ribbens–Staff Writer

This year’s film season has seen an increase in adapted screenplay musicals–from the countlessly remade West Side Story to the newer Tick, Tick, Boom! Here’s a guide for all that’s Broadway: 

In the Heights

While Hamilton may have made Lin-Manuel Miranda famous, In the Heights came first. The heart-warming musical follows the struggles and successes of bodega owner Usnavi. In the Washington Heights of New York, a collection of dreams emerges through the songs of immigrants from Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic. 

In his token maneuver, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the music for In the Heights and starred as the main character, Usnavi. Since its first showing in 2005, it has earned nominations for thirteen Tony Awards and won four. But its past starts long before that, on the campus of Wesleyan University. Nineteen-year-old Miranda started penning music to the film during his sophomore year of college in 1999. He staged the musical at Wesleyan University during his spring semester.

Twenty-two years later, the musical made it to the big screen. It opened in theaters on June 10 and can be found on multiple streaming services. Anthony Ramos, known for his roles as John Laurens and Philip Hamilton in Hamilton, replaced Miranda as Usnavi in the movie remake.

However, Miranda remained intimately involved with In the Heights by serving as one of the producers. He also starred as a minor character in the film. Miranda also offered Christopher Jackson a cameo appearance in the movie. In the Heights is responsible for Miranda and Jackson’s friendship; their roles as best friends, Benny and Usnavi, evolved into a real-life friendship. It is also the reason why Jackson later played George Washington in Hamilton, his more widely-known role. 

While the remake altered the plot and music slightly from the original show, critics and audiences alike welcomed it with open arms. It scored 94% on Rotten Tomatoes. The colorful musical is testament that twenty years of work pays off.

Tick, Tick…Boom!

Lin-Manuel Miranda and his musicals in New York just keep coming. But this time, instead of writing it, Lin-Manuel Miranda debuted in a feature directorial role. Tick, Tick…Boom! is actually written by Jonathan Larson, who is better-known for creating Rent. 

Larson wrote the musical in 1990 as an autobiographical solo show that he originally called Boho Days. He expressed his fear that he had pursued the wrong career path in the performing arts as he struggled to establish himself. He felt the pressure as he waited tables instead of performing. He wondered what he should do with this limited time, and how he could possibly address the problems ravaging those around him. All these stressors culminated in a ticking sound that only he could hear. 

The playwright died suddenly at the age of 35 in 1996, before he saw Rent’s success. After Larson’s death, playwright David Auburn reworked it into Tick, Tick…Boom! in 2001. 

Andrew Garfield played Jonathan Larson in the remake, even though he lacked the musical experience the other veteran actors brought to the film– he had performed in some Broadway plays, but not to the extent that some of the other actors had. Of course, he is also well-known in his role as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man. Garfield embraced the role as an opportunity to understand Larson and work through his grief after the passing of his mother.

“Every frame, every moment, every breath of this film is an attempted honoring of Jon,” Garfield said in The New York Times. “And, on a more personal level, it’s an honoring of my mom.”

The emotionally charged musical will be released in theaters on Nov. 12 and will be streamed on Netflix on Nov. 19.

West Side Story

This classic musical debuted in 1957 and has experienced several Broadway revivals in the half-century since. It has been nominated for six Tony Awards and will be released in a film remake in theatres on Dec. 10. The interesting thing is, this is not even its first movie adaptation. It first hit the big screen in 1961, but fans are excited for the 2021 film. Steven Spielberg, known for Jaws, E.T., and Schindler’s List, directed the remake.

In this Manhattan musical, Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is alive and well. Except, Romeo is Tony and Juliet is Maria. Instead of the Capulets and the Montagues, the Sharks and the Jets stepped into their roles of rival gangs. The Sharks are comprised of immigrants from Puerto Rico, while the Jets are made up of White Americans. The musical explored the toxicity of racism and the danger of hatred. As the two gangs fought over turf, turmoil also bubbled within the personal spheres of star-crossed lovers Tony and Maria.

Ansel Elgort, known for playing Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars, played Tony in the remake. Rachel Zegler made her film debut as Maria.

The two actors played opposite each other in the ups and downs of Maria and Tony’s lives. Maria, who recently immigrated from Puerto Rico, fought against an arranged marriage. Tony worked at a drugstore while he dreamed of something better around the corner. Meanwhile, their loyalties are tested as the Sharks and the Jets drag them into their fight. You’ll just have to watch it to find out if Maria and Tony have a different ending than Romeo and Juliet.

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