Top 10 Differences Between In the Heights Movie & Musical

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Top 10 Differences Between In the Heights Movie & Musical

VOICE OVER: Emily Brayton WRITTEN BY: Emily Blair
These differences between the "In the Heights" movie and musical stood out like fireworks. Our countdown includes the lottery winner revealed, the song order, from Donald Trump to Tiger Woods, and more!
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Top 10 Differences Between In the Heights Movie and Musical


Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Differences Between the In the Heights Movie & Musical

For this list, we’ll be looking at major changes that occurred during the adaptation from stage to screen, including some dealing with major plot points, so spoiler alert!

Did we miss any changes? Let us know in the comments!

#10: From Donald Trump to Tiger Woods


When “In the Heights” opened on Broadway in 2008, Donald Trump was just a real estate tycoon and an example of the ultra rich. Obviously, since his presidential campaign and election in 2016, his image has changed significantly and he now represents very different things, especially to immigrant communities. It was pretty much inevitable his name would be removed from the movie, and surely enough it was easily swapped out with Tiger Woods. A tweet from Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2019 confirms this alteration had been made in the stage musical years before the movie, further emphasizing how drastically Donald Trump’s public image has changed in the last ten years.

#9: Vanessa’s Role Is Expanded


Usnavi’s love interest and the film’s female lead was of course an important character in the stage musical as well. But moviegoers will notice that much more of Vanessa’s life is shown in the film adaptation. We get to see the apartment she’s trying to move into, as well as her journey there. Shots of her creative process in fashion designing further illustrate her dedication to her dreams. These simple changes did a lot to make Vanessa into a more well rounded character, and make her dreams much more tangible for viewers.

#8: New & Missing Characters


A lot of changes were made in the spoken dialogue and plot of the film adaptation, which necessitated some changes in the cast of characters. Some were cut entirely, like Nina’s mother, Camila Rosario, who had a significant role with multiple solo numbers in the musical. Far more characters were added, however, including the hilarious Cuca as one of the salon ladies; the lawyer Alejandro; and Sonny’s deadbeat father, played by legendary salsa artist Marc Anthony. These new or missing characters are definitely among the most noticeable stage to screen changes. But they complement the changes in the story nicely, and reflect the fact that films have the flexibility to have a larger cast of smaller characters.

#7: Future Usnavi’s Narration


The movie opens with an older Usnavi telling the story of Washington Heights to a group of children on a tropical beach. Throughout the film we cut back to this scene to see Usnavi's reactions and further explanation of the film’s plot. In the stage musical, Usnavi still acts as somewhat of a narrator, but tells the story from the present moment as it’s happening around him. Later, it’s revealed that the beach behind Usnavi was in fact a mural, and they’ve been in the bodega in Washington Heights, where his sueñito truly was all along. This is another change from the stage musical, in which the mural was a depiction of Abuela Claudia in remembrance of the neighborhood matriarch.

#6: The Film’s Dreamlike Visuals


The most obvious theme of “In the Heights” is sueñitos, or the unique “little dreams” that everyone has in their lives. The film’s director Jon M. Chu did a fantastic job of carrying this theme over to the film, using CGI to create surreal visuals that make the movie feel as dreamy as the sueñitos of its characters. “It Won’t Be Long Now” shows Vanessa’s dreams in the form of giant bolts of fabric cascading down from the sky. In “When the Sun Goes Down”, Benny and Nina dance together among the fire escapes on the side of a building as they vow to find a way to be together. The visual spectacles show how a musical can be adapted for the screen and fully utilize the new medium to its advantage.

#5: The Lottery Winner Reveal


The film keeps the winner of the life-changing $96,000 lottery ticket a secret until almost the end, but the stage musical reveals Abuela Claudia as the winner before the end of Act 1. Her winning plays a large part in furthering the plot in Act 2, where she decides to split the winnings three ways with Usnavi and Sonny. The film puts a much more emotional spin on Abuela’s winnings by leaving the reveal until after her death, to show that the neighborhood’s matriarch is still providing for her loved ones even after she’s passed on.

#4: Carla & Daniela’s Relationship


In the stage production, Carla and Daniela are two close friends who work at the salon together and love to gossip. In the film, much of this stays the same, but they’re now romantic partners who live together as well. While this change wasn’t essential to the adaptation and had little, if any, effect on the plot, it still means everything for a film to so casually include this kind of LGBTQ+ representation. Carla and Daniela make an adorable couple, and with the addition of Cuca as one of the salon ladies, we were given the iconic trio we never knew we needed.

#3: Nina’s Reasons for Leaving Stanford



Nina’s storyline sees her struggling with the expectations placed upon her after getting into Stanford to make something of herself in order to represent her community proudly. In both the movie and musical, Nina drops out of Stanford in the beginning, but for very different reasons. In the musical, Nina can’t cope with working multiple jobs to pay her tuition as well as keeping up with her classes, leading to poor grades and a lost scholarship. In the movie, however, Nina decides to leave Stanford due to the racism she experienced there. In both versions, she ultimately decides to return, but her motivations for doing so are again different - which we’ll come to soon!

#2: The Song Order


To fit other changes made in the musical’s storyline for the film adaptation, many of the songs were switched around or even cut entirely. For example, “Paciencia Y Fe” was originally the song immediately after “96,000” and included Abuela Claudia revealing her winning lottery ticket. In the film, “Paciencia Y Fe” is now the last song Abuela sings before her death as she recounts her life story in her final moments. Other songs, like “Sunrise” and “Hundreds of Stories” didn’t make it to the big screen. But if you’re worried they left out the “Piragua” reprise as well, be sure to stick it out through the end credits.

Before we unveil our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions.

Usnavi Leaves the Dominican Republic as a Child, Not an Infant

Benny & Nina Are Confirmed to Have Dated in the Past in the Film

#1: A Greater Focus on Immigration Policy & Reform


In the sixteen years since “In the Heights” first opened, a lot has changed within US immigration laws and politics. The film took the opportunity to revamp the musical for the modern day by incorporating these new changes in policy, like Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, in the new film. An entire storyline was added for Sonny about his status as an undocumented immigrant and how Usnavi ends up using the lottery money to help Sonny on the path to citizenship. Additionally, Nina is inspired to go back to Stanford to help other undocumented children like Sonny – emphasizing that immigration is truly at the heart of this adaptation.
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