Spoilers are ahead. After more than 15 years, the sueñito or “little dream” that is In The Heights is finally hitting the big screen. The big-hearted summer blockbuster directed by Jon M. Chu and written by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, who wrote the original musical, is a feast for the eyes. But if you don’t look (and listen) real close you might miss some things. In The Heights is full of Easter eggs that include a viral Joker locale, a Drag Race cameo, and a Rent connection that will surely light your candle. Oh, and more than a few Hamilton shout-outs that will delight all the Hamilfans out there. Word to the wise: Listen closely to Stanford University’s hold music. In general, just listen up because the film’s background music holds its own secrets.
Before you re-watch the movie for the second, third or fourth time, here’s a list of all the little inside jokes and references you definitely won’t want to miss.
Hamilton’s “You’ll Be Back” Becomes Muzak
As Nina’s dad Kevin (Jimmy Smits) waits for the Stanford bursar’s office to take his call, the hold music plays a familiar tune. Listen close and you’ll hear a horn-filled Muzak rendition of King George III’s big number “You’ll Be Back.” Unfortunately, we only get a few instrumental “Da da da dat das” before someone picks up, but it’s enough to get you singing along.
A Special Rent Connection Via Daphne Rubin-Vega
Daphne Rubin-Vega plays salon owner Daniela, but this isn’t her first time appearing in the musical. In the original Broadway production of In the Heights, she was the voice of a DJ heard at the beginning of the musical.
More importantly though, she originated the role of Mimi in Rent, a musical that helped shape Hamilton. Miranda said that he had an “a-ha!” moment the first time he saw Jonathan Larson’s musical. “The show exists, and people go, ‘That’s for me. I can do that show,'” he told Playbill back in 2015.
Miranda’s connection to Larson doesn’t end there though. Miranda will make his directorial debut with Larson’s autobiographical musical tick, tick…BOOM! which debuts on Netflix and in select theaters this fall.
Sweet Nods To Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Wife
Miranda’s wife Vanessa Nadal, who he first met in high school, is the namesake of In The Heights‘ Vanessa, the aspiring fashion designer played by Melissa Barrera. But the lawyer who grew up in Washington Heights gets a few additional shoutouts in the film like the realtor being named “Nadal” in honour of her maiden name. The “When You’re Home” number was filmed in J. Hood Wright Park, which Miranda told CBS This Morning was “where my wife’s first apartment was on her own.” He also said that the “Carnaval Del Barrio” scene features Nadal’s grandmother’s building, making it a real family affair.
A Hidden Reference To Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Abuela
The record with the scratch — you know, the one Abuela Claudia (Olga Merediz, who originated the role on Broadway) loves so much — features Miranda’s chosen abuela’s name on it. The prop record of “Siempre” says it’s by “Luisa Mundi,” who was not Miranda’s biological grandmother. She was his father’s nanny in Puerto Rico who became his nanny. She was the inspiration for Abuela Claudia in the musical.
“She raised me,” Miranda told the New Yorker in 2007. “Every time she sees me, she worries about me being too thin. I can do no wrong in that woman’s eyes. She’s our abuela. There’s always an abuela at home.” She passed away in 2017, but her memory lives on with In The Heights.
Christopher Jackson From Hamilton & In The Heights
It’s only fitting Jackson appears in the film; he was the original Benny to Miranda’s Usnavi on Broadway. If you stick around past the credits, you’ll see Mister Softee get his comeuppance, sort of. A real win for anyone who’s Team Piragüero. Though, Piragua Guy does seem to be playing the ice cream man’s right-hand man. Hmm, interesting.
The Joker Stairs
Those stairs in the Highbridge neighbourhood of the Bronx that Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker danced his way down — and became a viral sensation with fans — also make an appearance in this musical. Oddly, there is no one dancing down them, but these steep steps play a role in a pretty memorable moment in this movie, too. Maybe we can start calling them the In The Heights stairs from now on?
That Marc Anthony Cameo
Why yes, that is Marc Anthony playing Sonny’s struggling father. The Puerto Rican singer/actor doesn’t sing in the film, a travesty really. But he does show up on the In The Heights soundtrack singing the new original song “Home All Summer.” Anyone else already predicting a Best Original Song Oscar?
The Voices On The Radio Are Familiar
Anytime there is a radio playing, you should listen up. Jon M. Chu told BuzzFeed that there are some familiar voices singing throughout the film. “Mandy Gonzalez [who originated the role of Nina on Broadway] may or may not be singing a doo-wop version of one of the songs in the dry cleaners where [Abuela Claudia is] getting the napkins fixed,” he said.
While it’s hard to take your eyes off Usnavi (Anthony Ramos) and Vanessa’s bodega fridge flirting, hone your ears in on the music playing in the background. Chu hinted that those sneaky vocals are from Miranda and In The Heights composers (and the film’s executive music producers) Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman.
Drag Race Alum Valentina Makes A Cameo
In the “No Me Diga” scene, you’ll see Drag Race contestant Valentina (real name James Leyva) sitting in one of Daniela’s salon chairs. The non-binary Mexican American drag queen, who placed seventh in both season 9 of Drag Race and All Stars 4, plays themselves in the film. They previously played Angel in Fox’s Rent: Live.
An NPR Reporter Visits The Heights
Mexican-American journalist Maria Hinojosa plays a protest leader in the film and her voice should sound familiar to NPR listeners. For 25 years, has been the host of Latino USA. In 2010, she also founded the Futuro Media Group, which is focused on community-based journalism that helps the voiceless get a voice.
Patrick Page Appears For The Broadway Heads
Patrick Page plays Pike Phillips, who is buying up a lot of Usnavi’s Washington Heights neighbourhood. While Page’s name might not ring a bell for everyone, Broadway fans go crazy for the prolific actor who originated the roles of Norman Osborn/The Green Goblin in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, The Grinch in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical and Hades in Hadestown. Yeah, he’s kind of a big deal.
The Meaning Of Those Lottery Numbers
The winning numbers are: 5-7-16-26-33, and each one has a special meaning for Chu. As he told Vulture: “Five is the month of my wife’s birth; 7-16 is my daughter’s birthday; 7-26 is my anniversary and also the day my son was due. Thirty-three is my favourite number.”
Unfortunately, he soon learned his anniversary is actually the 27th, which was also the day his son was due. “However,” Chu said, “just a few weeks later, my baby was born on the 26th, so he had my back.” His son also has a pretty special name: Jonathan Heights Chu.
“96,000” Lyrics Swap Trump For Tiger Woods
In the original version of the track, which is all about the prospect of being a lottery winner, Benny makes reference to Donald Trump, the Apprentice host who was yet to run for office. In the film, Corey Hawkins’ Benny jokes about Tiger Woods becoming his caddy now that he’s rolling in the bucks.
Miranda told Variety that the nod to Trump was nixed because it was originally meant to be tongue-in-cheek. “When I wrote it, he was an avatar for the Monopoly man. He was just, like, a famous rich person,” he says. “Then when time moves on and he becomes the stain on American democracy, you change the lyric. Time made a fool of that lyric, and so we changed it.”
The film’s screenwriter Quiara Alegría Hudes, who also wrote the book for In The Heights, agreed that the decision to nix the Trump lyric was simple. “When that lyric was written, it was in a teasing way because of what Donald Trump represented in that time,” she told Variety. She says it “got to a point where teasing didn’t quite cover it. There was so much harm and damage done to the communities that we were trying to uplift in this movie. In the spirit of the movie, his name doesn’t have a place in a teasing way.”
Like what you see? How about some more R29 goodness, right here?