What year does In The Heights take place? Story's timeline investigated

Eve Edwards June 11, 2021
What year does In The Heights take place? Story's timeline investigated


Viewers across the US are tuning into In The Heights, as the musical movie gets released to HBO Max this Friday, 11 June 2021. It will get its theatrical release a week later on Friday, 18 June.

The highly anticipated musical In The Heights is being called the “feelgood film of the summer” by critics. It is adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s (of Hamilton fame) musical of the same name.

If you’re new to In The Heights, you might have questions about the musical – when it takes place, where it is set, when Miranda wrote the musical. We’ve done some investigating into the time-frame of In The Heights to get you the answers you need.

What year does In The Heights take place?

The libretto of In The Heights indicates the show takes place between 3 July and 5 July of an undisclosed year. Lin-Manuel Miranda never specifies the exact date of when In The Heights takes place, although fans of the musical have put on their detective hats to figure out the time-frame.

A Reddit user used the musical’s song Benny’s Dispatch to attempt to work out which year the musical took place. 

In the song, Benny tells Kevin Rosario’s employees: “Manny Ramirez is in town this weekend.” The MLB player is a Washington Heights native. He played for a number of teams, but his career peaked during his time with the Boston Red Sox from 2001 to 2008. 

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The Reddit user reveals: “It’s safe to assume that Manny Ramirez was a member of the Boston Red Sox when Benny hyped his impending visit. (We know that Benny is referring to a Yankees game because of Washington Heights’ close proximity to the Bronx. No one on Kevin Rosario’s payroll would be worried about traffic near Shea Stadium in Queens).” 

In both 2003 and 2008, the Red Sox played an away series against the New York Yankees during a weekend around 3 July and 5 July. 

Usnavi later refers to the wine he brings to the Rosario’s as a “vintage 2008” from New Zealand. This would suggest In The Heights took place in July 2008. 

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So is In The Heights really set in July 2008? What about rewrites and the New York blackout?

The same Reddit thread proves there are inconsistencies in the In The Heights timeline. Although historically it makes sense that In The Heights took place in July 2008, what with Manny Ramirez being in town, the show began previews on 14 February 2008, months before the baseball game against the Yankees.

The northeast blackout of 2003 took place on 14 August 2003, where the Eastern Seaboard had a major power outage. This could then be the inspiration for the “Blackout” number.

As the very first draft of In The Heights was written in 1999 and didn’t hit Broadway until 2008, there were numerous drafts of the script. In fact, author Quiara Alegría Hudes joined the team in 2004, which likely brought many changes.

This leads us to think there’s no specific year in which In The Heights takes place. Instead, it includes vignettes of Washington Heights’ history to create a tapestry of the neighbourhood’s culture.

Aesthetically, the film looks set between the mid-2000s and early 2010s.

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Changes made from stage musical to film

Changes have been made to the film version’s lyrics, notably in Benny’s Dispatch.

Instead of singing about Manny Ramirez, another Dominican baseball player is referenced: “Big Papi” aka David Ortiz.

The reason for this small change is unknown, but it throws the time-frame off once more as David Ortiz was playing in the MLB for longer than Ramirez.

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Eve Edwards is a staff writer for The Focus who has been with GRV Media since April 2019. Having gained a BA (Hons) in History from the University of Bristol, Eve joined GRV starting out as a writer for Reality Titbit before making her way over to HITC. With a passion for music, TV, and cultural news, Eve eventually found a home at The Focus. Eve spent 2021-2022 freelancing for GRV Media while she completed a Masters in Music Performance, and brings her wide array of interests to the company in her written work. In Eve's spare time you'll find her working her way through the day's Wordle, Heardle, and Quordle, or struggling to complete The Guardian's cryptic crossword.