Since this movie is an adaptation of a Broadway musical, you might be wondering just how many changes happened between stage and screen. The answer: QUITE A FEW, ACTUALLY.
So let’s jump right in, shall we? Here is every single difference between In the Heights the movie and In the Heights the musical.
We watched the movie clutching a (very old) script of the original musical, so you can trust us. We’ve been very thorough.
The movie cut quite a few songs that were in the original score.
Say goodbye to “Inútil,” “Sunrise,” “Hundreds of Stories,” “Enough,” “Atención,” and “Everything I Know.” “Hundreds of Stories” was re-worked as a dialogue scene and you can hear an instrumental version of “Sunrise” as the background music in a few scenes.
Nina’s mom, Camila, is not a character in the movie.
The order of the songs is different.
Only a few lines from the original dialogue were used in the movie. The rest of the dialogue is completely different.
We literally counted, and fewer than 10 lines made it to the movie from the original script.
The movie’s timeline is much longer than the musical’s. Instead of only lasting a few days, the movie spans three days before and after the blackout, then jumps forward a whole month after “Carnaval Del Barrio.”
The time frame is even longer when you consider that the ending takes place a few years in the future.
The movie uses a framing device that is completely new and has Usnavi telling his story to a group of kids on a beach several years in the future. One of them is his daughter!
In general, the movie is a lot more visual than the musical could ever be (because, y’know, it was in a theater). There are lots of intimate close-ups that convey cultural specificity.
Mr. Rosario’s verse in “In the Heights” changes to reflect Camila’s absence.
Just a small note regarding lyric changes: There’s actually a lot of small changes throughout the whole movie, but for the sake of efficiency, we’re going to limit ourselves to the bigger ones that affect the timeline or plot of the story.
Daniela and Carla are a couple in the movie! They were just besties in the musical.
Four new characters have been added.
This movie makes a lot of references to each character’s “sueñito,” or little dream. Sueñito is also the name of Usnavi’s dad’s bar in DR. This theme isn’t as prominent in the musical.
Now, we understand why this was added, but we feel compelled to mention that most native Spanish speakers don’t actually refer to their dreams and aspirations as “sueñitos.” In fact, people usually only use the word “sueñito” to say that they’re sleepy.
In “Benny’s Dispatch,” Manny Ramirez is replaced with Big Papi, now making the lyric “Big Papi is in town this weekend.”
It’s a small change, but it makes the frame of reference more modern.
Usnavi’s backstory is a little different. In the movie, he came to the US at 8 years old, not when he was a baby like in the musical.
Now he actually remembers DR and his parents, which makes his desire to move back more understandable.
The movie considerably expanded Sonny’s backstory and added an immigration storyline that wasn’t in the musical.
Sonny reveals he’s undocumented when he and Nina attend a protest together, which is why his dad doesn’t want to let him go to DR with Usnavi.
Nina’s college storyline is slightly different.
She didn’t lose her scholarship because her grades slipped, but rather she chose to drop out because she was worried about her dad’s finances and didn’t feel comfortable after experiencing a racist incident at Stanford. She ends up deciding to go back after learning that Sonny is undocumented and plans to use her education to help people like him.
Nina and Benny have ~history~ prior to the movie. They dated before Nina left for Stanford, and Benny broke up with her.
In the musical, their courtship was brand-new and Nina’s dad very much did not approve of Benny.
Vanessa’s backstory is expanded from the musical, and now she has dreams of becoming a fashion designer.
She also doesn’t live with her mom in this version.
In “It Won’t Be Long Now,” the conversation between Usnavi, Vanessa, and Sonny is dialogue instead of part of the song.
We see Vanessa talking to a realtor about not getting an apartment, and then she shows up at the bodega instead of being sent to pick things up like in the musical. Some lines still made it in with small changes — for instance, this time Usnavi has something on his shirt instead of “some schmutz on [his] face.” Most of Sonny’s lines remain the same, and he fortunately still refers to Usanvi’s dancing as “like a drunk Chita Rivera.”
The movie switches back and forth between the main events and Usnavi talking about them in the future. One of these interludes features Older Usnavi giving the kids a quick history lesson about iconic Latinas.
He gives a shoutout to Chita Rivera, Rita Moreno, Frida Kahlo, Celia Cruz, Dolores Huerta, Isabel Allende, Sandra Cisneros, Julia Alvarez, Rigoberta Menchú, the Mirabal sisters, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
In “96,000,” Donald Trump was swapped out for Tiger Woods, making the line “Tiger Woods and I on the links, and he’s my caddy.”
They also changed the line “Yo, I got more hoes than a phonebook in Tokyo,” to “Yo, I got more flows than Obi-Wan Kenobi, oh.”
Both excellent changes, frankly.
Nina imagines a younger version of herself during two of her songs as a visual representation of her feelings of failure.
Young Nina, played by Ariana Greenblatt, appears in “Breathe” and “When You’re Home,” and is not in the musical.
“In the Club” and “Blackout” went through some pretty significant changes for the movie. They aren’t too different musically, but the plot changes a whole lot.
Here are Sonny and Pete’s all-new lyrics:
And here is Usnavi and Vanessa’s argument:
“Paciencia Y Fe” is now the last song that Claudia sings before she dies, instead of singing it earlier like in the musical. It’s basically her recollection of how hard her life has been since moving from Cuba and ends with her walking toward a white light.
Abuela Claudia dies without knowing she won the lotto, and she dies earlier than in the show.
In the musical, she and Usnavi sing “Hundreds of Stories” to discuss what they’re going to do with the $96,000.
“Carnaval del Barrio” got some line changes, like Usnavi’s rap and the exclusion of “we’re giving a third of the money to you, Sonny,” because Usnavi doesn’t know that Claudia left him the lottery ticket.
The blackout ends after “Carnaval del Barrio” instead of lasting for the rest of the plot.
Usnavi eventually finds the winning ticket when he’s cleaning out Claudia’s apartment. Claudia never gives it to him.
The lyrics at the end of “Champagne” have been changed to reflect that Vanessa already moved and nobody knows Usnavi won the money yet.
Usnavi leaves all of the money he won to Sonny, to pay for his immigration lawyer and to give him a trust to pay for his education.
In the musical, Usnavi keeps some of the money for himself.
Usnavi’s opening lyrics in “Finale” have also changed to reflect the changes in the story.
The mural that convinces Usnavi to stay in Washington Heights is of his dad’s beach in DR, not of Abuela Claudia like in the musical. Vanessa is also a much bigger factor in his decision.
And finally, the ending of the movie jumps forward a few years to show that the “beach” that Older Usnavi was sitting in front of the whole time was actually the mural, and that he and Vanessa are still together and are raising their daughter Iris in Washington Heights.