The beauty of musicals is the fact that songs and dance can be performed almost anywhere. Not only on stage but at home, in places like the Wild West, and on the streets of New York.
Classic musicals that are set in New York often take dancing on the streets.
In The Town In The Town (1949, inspired by the production of the stage musical), Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly (who also choreographed the film) portray sailors as they leave the big city. On the other hand, in West Side Story (1961, inspired by the stage show from 1957), two rival groups, The black American Jets and the Peurto-Rican Sharks, tell the tale that follows Romeo and Juliet in the Upper West Side, dancing to Jerome Robbins’ choreography.
It’s the same for In The Heights, an adaptation of the stage production composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda (the creator of the Broadway smash Hamilton) as well as Quiara Alegria Hudes.
The story is set in the predominantly working-class Latinx neighborhood located in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan. The characters all wish for a better future. Usnavi is planning to move into the Dominican Republic to set up his father’s beachside bar; Vanessa dreams of becoming an elite fashion designer in downtown; Nina carries the weight of the expectations of the neighborhood and is a student at Stanford University in California.
All the while, they sing and dance.
Miranda’s book of songs draws the influences from Latin to hip-hop and Christopher Scott’s choreography covers the spectrum of styles, from pop and breakdancing as well as ballet and Jamaican dancehall.
They frequently use classical music as a reference, too.
Busby Water ballet in Berkeley
Dance and music that is spontaneous is one of the most entertaining aspects of many film musicals and it is the most important element of early films of this genre.
In the traditional Hollywood period of 1930 to 1950, The film musical was at its peak. Musicals attracted huge crowds to the theater, based on vaudeville, stage musicals, operettas, and cabaret. They mingled them with editing and camerawork to impress audiences.
The intensity that was Broadway choreography was amplified through camerawork, which allowed audiences to be close to dancers. One of the leading choreographers and directors from this time was Busby Berkeley.
Berkeley’s work was created to be recorded from above as dancers created breathtaking dance choreography that is kaleidoscopic.
In the course of In The Heights’ number “96,000”, the whole block takes part in a water dance at a local swimming pool, similar to Berkeley’ Million Dollar Mermaid (1952).
“96,000” is quite the technical feat. This was a long time for Director Jon M. Chu, three days to shoot with 700 extras at the open Highbridge Pool. Also, he had to deal with severe thunderstorms as well as New York City restrictions on drone photography that necessitated the need for cranes.