IN THE HEIGHTS tells the universal story of a vibrant community in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood – a place where the coffee from the corner bodega is light and sweet, the windows are always open and the breeze carries the rhythm of three generations of music. It’s a community on the brink of change, full of hopes, dreams and pressures, where the biggest struggles can be deciding which traditions you take with you, and which ones you leave behind.
Directed and Choreographed by Guy Gardner
It's before dawn and the stage is dark. Alarm clock radios ring from scattered windows announcing a record-breaking heat wave today, July 3rd. As the sun rises we see the silhouette of the George Washington Bridge above the apartment buildings. Welcome to Washington Heights.
In the shadows a young man sprays graffiti onto a bodega awning, but his artistic reverie is interrupted when the store owner, Usnavi, enters and chases him away. Usnavi opens his bodega and supplies neighbors with their morning coffee and papers. We meet Abuela Claudia, who raised Usnavi, and Sonny, his young cousin who helps with the store. Everyone's stories and dreams pass through this modest store front: his friend Benny wants a promotion, the ladies who work at the salon want some gossip, and Vanessa, Usnavi's love interest, wants an apartment in a different part of town. Usnavi has a dream of his own: one day to return to the island of his roots, the Dominican Republic.
As the morning rush subsides Nina Rosario enters, home at last from her freshman year at Stanford. Usnavi is proud of her, and Abuela Claudia invites the neighbourhood star inside for a visit. But in a moment alone, Nina reveals that she struggled at college.
Meanwhile Nina's parents seek an emergency loan from the bank to keep their struggling taxi service afloat. They leave Benny, a young employee, in charge of the dispatch for the first time. Nina enters looking for her parents but finds Benny showing off his skills on the microphone.
At the hair salon across the street Vanessa has financial troubles of her own. Her mother drank away the money for the bills, and now their electricity is shut off. Vanessa dreams of escaping to a studio in the West Village: at the moment her only respite is a stop by Usnavi's bodega. Usnavi works up the courage to ask her out and she accepts.
Nina is helping Benny on the switchboard when her parents return. She becomes nervous and reveals to her parents that she lost her academic scholarship and dropped out of Stanford. Her father, Kevin, is devastated that he cannot provide tuition without the scholarship.
Nina seeks comfort from her friend Vanessa, but the salon owner, Daniela. sits her down for a makeover and gossip session. Daniela laments that this is her last day on the block. Due to a rent increase the salon is relocating to the Bronx. The best "bochinche" of the day is yet to come: someone bought a winning lottery ticket from Usnavi's bodega. Everyone on the block dreams of how they'd spend the small fortune. ($96,000) Abuela Claudia emerges amid the hubbub to feed the pigeons. She reflects on her childhood journey from Cuba to New York in 1943. remembering that her mother would say, "Patience and faith" along the journey. She reveals that she holds the winning lottery ticket.
As the sun begins to set, Nina and Benny find themselves alone on the street. Nina admits that she felt like an outsider at Stanford, and Benny says that being the only African-American in a Latino-run business can be intimidating. The two take a tour of the neighborhood landmarks they grew up with. The stores close up for the evening as a piragua guy continues selling flavored ice.
At the Rosario household, Camila (Nina's mother) has been cooking. Neighbors are enjoying the music and company when Kevin enters late, but with an announcement. He has sold Rosario's Car Service to pay for Nina's tuition. His news is met with anger: Benny has lost his job, Camila has lost her business. Nina vows not to accept the money. Nina follows Benny to a dance club. apologizing, but he is furious about Kevin's decision. Vanessa and Usnavi enter the club and begin to dance. Tensions rise on the dance floor when, suddenly. the power goes out. Vanessa and Usnavi are separated in the darkness. With fireworks exploding in the sky, Nina and Benny find each other in the chaos and kiss.
The next morning. The light reveals Benny and Nina on his fire escape after spending the night together. Down on the street, Usnavi's bodega has been looted. His awning is ripped and his cash register gone. Abuela Claudia convinces Usnavi that together they should use her lottery winnings to relocate to the Dominican Republic. Usnavi agrees to get rid of his corner store and pursue his dream.
Nina's parents have been searching for her all night, and when they learn that she has been with Benny. Kevin is furious. Kevin vows that Benny will never be a part of the Rosario family because he is not Latino. The family is at a breaking point when Camila instructs them to get it together before it's too late.
It's high noon and the neighbors are frustrated by the extreme heat and continuing power outage. They muster enough energy for one last celebration before the bodega, the salon, and the dispatch shut their doors forever. The celebration continues onto another block when Kevin makes an announcement over the taxi radios: Abuela Claudia has passed away. The neighbors reunite on the sidewalk, this time to hold a vigil in honor of the block's matriarch. Usnavi and Nina look through boxes of Abuela Claudia's keepsakes—old lottery tickets and photos from the block's history. As Nina discovers photographs from her own high school graduation she decides to accept her father's sacrifice and return to Stanford. Her parents agree to sell the business, even if it means Kevin must return to being a mechanic.
Across the street, as Daniela closes her salon forever, she reveals one last bit of juicy news. She will cosign on Vanessa's dream apartment in the West Village, thanks to a little convincing from Usnavi. Vanessa brings Usnavi a bottle of champagne to celebrate and asks him to stay, but his mind is set on the Dominican Republic. Sonny laments that this is the end of an era.
Benny returns his uniform and car keys to Kevin. He will start planning his own business now. But he worries about his relationship with Nina: can they survive a long distance relationship without the blessing of her father? Nina and Benny stand together as the sun sets.
The next morning Usnavi wakes up early to begin closing up shop. He sees the businesses around him. Daniela's salon is closed. The Rosarió s Car Service sign is gone. In just a few weeks he'll be gone too, and the block will be completely changed. But Sonny's not content to leave without a trace. He has commissioned a graffiti mural of Abuela Claudia on the bodega's grate, and Graffiti Pete has stayed up all night completing the portrait. Sonny rolls down the bodega grate, revealing the memorial. Usnavi realizes that this block is where his roots are, this "island" is where he will stay. He is home.