“That exchange of energy is something very magical that you can’t get in anything else.”–MELISSA BARRERA
Melissa Barrera makes her big-screen debut with a trio of high-profile films set to come out in the next year.
Melissa Barrera knows that getting a movie musical right is a difficult task.
“When you’re translating from a theater show to a film adaptation it’s not easy, and you have to think outside the box. A lot of the time it can’t be a straightforward adaptation because people are like, ‘Why am I even watching this if it’s better live?’ so you have to go bigger and dream bigger and try to be better than the theater play,” she says.
Barrera and her co-star, Anthony Ramos, dancing in their new film, In the Heights
Luckily, that’s exactly what Jon M. Chu, her director in the long-awaited movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Tony-winning In the Heights, did with his film. In the Heights—which came out in theaters and began streaming on HBO Max June 11—is chock-full of massive, large-scale musical numbers that are much more ambitious than other recent stage-to-screen attempts.
Barrera would know, since movie musicals are one of her favorite genres (Chicago, Moulin Rouge and Grease are among her faves). A telenovela star in her native Mexico who studied musical theater at NYU, the 30-year-old actress is best known to American audiences as the free-spirited Lyn on Vida, the critically beloved Starz drama about two sisters who move back to their rapidly gentrifying neighborhood in East Los Angeles following the death of their mother.
The short-lived series ran for three seasons from 2018 to 2020, which was long enough to get Barrera into audition rooms for massive Hollywood projects—including the latest Scream installment (which the original cast was “very happy with, so I feel like that’s a good sign,” she says), and the epic music-influenced adaptation of Carmen, directed by choreographer Benjamin Millepied.
While Carmen is still filled with music (and dance, choreographed by Millepied), “it’s more of a movie that’s driven by song and dance,” Barrera explains. “It’s not like ‘break out into song and dance in the street’; it’s more like when Carmen is singing she’s actually singing to someone. She’s on a stage performing or in dreams. It’s a different kind of musical movie.”
Up next? Pretty much anything—as long as it’s good, and it’s something she feels passionate about doing. But she’s hoping to live out those musical theater dreams onstage.
“Theater is my first love—that’s what got me into acting in the first place—and I still think there’s nothing quite like live theater. That exchange of energy is something very magical that you can’t get in anything else. When Broadway opens back up, to find the right part and hopefully be able to do something cool, a run of a show in New York would be a dream.”
Photography by: Courtesy of Action Press/Zuma Press; Courtesy of Warner Bros;