From Fred Astaire and Esther Williams to ‘Step Up 3D’
So the new film adaptation of In the Heights has you bopping your head and dancing a samba step. Maybe you’re looking for another musical fix, or perhaps you’re curious about the classic films that gave Heights its DNA. Look no further! Here’s a round-up of musical classics and crowd-pleasers to keep the beat going all summer long.
Coco and Moana (Disney+)
For as much as music is part of Latino culture, there are few movie musicals about Latino characters. Disney/Pixar’s animated film Coco beautifully spotlights Mexican culture, with a story centered around the tradition of Dia de los Muertos and remembering those who have passed. Plus, it gives a cameo to one of the Latina heroines that Heights name-checks: the artist-lady, aka Frida Kahlo.
And since you’re already on Disney+, don’t pass by the equally excellent Moana featuring the music (and unmistakable singing voice) of Heights composer Lin-Manuel Miranda. The story takes place in the south Pacific, but shares many of the themes of family and community that flow through Heights.
Black Orpheus (Criterion Channel, HBO Max)
If you’re craving a more serious, arthouse vibe, then this French-Brazilian reimagination of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice may be for you. While not strictly a musical, the film’s bossa nova score permeates every scene and the vibrant settings of Rio’s favelas and Carnaval provide unforgettable images.
Million Dollar Mermaid (HBO Max)
One of the showstoppers from In the Heights is “96,000”, performed by hundreds of dancers in and around a public pool. The choreography and compositions make clear nods to the work of legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley, particularly the lavish aqua-ballets he designed for swimmer-turned-actress Esther Williams. Million Dollar Mermaid, an otherwise quaint biopic of 1900s Australian swimmer Annette Kellermann, includes one of Berkeley’s most spectacular creations, featuring one jaw-dropping stunt after another.
Royal Wedding (Turner Classic Movies)
A high-rise building becomes a dance floor for the romantic duet “When the Sun Goes Down” in another stand-out musical moment in Heights. Back in 1951, director Stanley Donen had Fred Astaire dance up the walls and onto the ceiling for his gravity-defying expression of love, “You’re All the World to Me.” Royal Wedding is best remembered for this iconic dance, but the film also features several fun numbers from Astaire and the always delightful Jane Powell, plus a rare big screen appearance by Sarah Churchill, daughter of Winston. That’s her photo Astaire gazes at before leaping around the room.
Step Up 2: The Streets and Step Up 3D (Hulu)
Heights director Jon M. Chu earned his bonafides directing two entries from the Step Up dance film franchise. The plots of these films may lack the gravitas of Heights, but the dance sequences are the main event and they are equal parts adrenaline and pure joy.
Fiddler on the Roof (Amazon Prime)
Though the two shows may look quite different on the surface, the blueprint for Heights comes from Fiddler. Both are about the bonds formed within close-knit communities undergoing change. And what is “96,000” if not a modern riff on “If I Were a Rich Man”? Fiddler is well-known thanks to several Broadway revivals and countless high school and community theatre productions, but it is a classic for a reason and the 1971 film version is a very well-done adaptation.
Hamilton: An American Musical (Disney +)
I had to throw this one in, just in case you have resisted watching Hamilton until now. Just watch it already! It’s got Usnavi, the Piragua guy, and the Mister Softee guy. Trust me, it’s good.