People who haven’t yet seen the movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s joyous Broadway musical In the Heights may think he’s the star of the show. As one of its most famous faces, after his hyper-successful musical Hamilton and the stardom that followed, he’s all over the advertising. But his character is actually little more than a cameo — he plays a shaved-ice vendor roaming the streets of New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood, selling piragua to the residents — and singing about it, of course. His character doesn’t even get a name: He’s just “Piragüero,” meaning “piragua vendor,” the Puerto Rican equivalent of calling a character “Ice Cream Man.”
But while he just gets one song to himself, and one moment of longing for more customers and a steadier income, people watching the movie may miss out on the payoff, unless they stay through the credits. Miranda gets a post-credits scene to himself, where he sings a reprise of his song as he finally claims a temporary victory over his rival Mister Softee. When the latter’s truck breaks down, the piragüero gets all his customers for the day — and takes advantage by jacking up his prices.
It’s a tiny, jokey moment that might barely register for viewers, given the scope and energy of the rest of the musical, which is about several different NYC immigrants claiming their identities and deciding what their heritages mean to them. But it’s also a payoff for a plot arc most people likely didn’t even realize was a plot arc, because it’s so small. Like so many musical protagonists, Miranda gets his own “I want” song, then eventually gets a version of what he asked for.
Is the timing suspicious? Polygon’s Matt Patches thinks so — when I pointed out the scene to him, he said “Sinister!” and claimed the piragüero had clearly sabotaged Mister Softee’s truck. So judgey! The truck probably just overheated, given the musical’s themes of an overwhelming heat wave, right? These two probably aren’t actually attacking each other, and there almost certainly isn’t a TV series coming, where they face off against each other every week, Spy vs. Spy-style, in a merciless bid to dominate Washington Heights’ frozen-treat market, right.
But if there was one, we’d watch it, as long as the music was this catchy. Especially since their rivalry serves as an in-joke and a double cameo for the film: Christopher Jackson, who plays the stymied ice-cream vendor Mister Softee, was the original George Washington in the stage version of Hamilton, and the original stage version of Benny the radio dispatcher, played by Corey Hawkins in the new musical. Miranda and Jackson have had a long friendship and a long professional partnership, and it’s pretty funny that they wind up glaring daggers at each other throughout In the Heights, and that Miranda ultimately hands himself the win.
In the Heights is in theaters and on HBO Max on June 11.
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