What the ‘In the Heights’ salon ladies represent

From left, Dascha Polanco star as Cuca, Daphne Rubin-Vega as Daniela and Stephanie Beatriz star as Carla in “In the Heights.” Macall Polay/Warner Bros. Entertainment/TNS

The beauty of upper Manhattan is on glorious display at a hair and nail salon featured in the movie musical “In the Heights.”

Daphne Rubin-Vega, Stephanie Beatriz and Dascha Polanco help capture the culture and values of a Latino neighborhood in Washington Heights through the women who run the popular salon.

“They provide an example of how people in your community can become part of your family, really your chosen family, and that those people are deeply invested in not only seeing you succeed, but really seeing you thrive as a person,” Beatriz, 40, told the Daily News.

“They also provide this incredibly safe, loving space, particularly for the women in this story, but really for all of the characters. ... It’s this incredible place of celebrating beauty of all kinds.”

The salon serves as a central hub of the film premiering Wednesday at the Tribeca Film Festival before arriving Thursday in theaters and on HBO Max.

Adapted from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Broadway musical, “In the Heights” brings back the fan-favorite salon ladies Daniela, played by Rubin-Vega, and Carla, portrayed by Beatriz, while introducing Polanca’s Cuca as a new character.

The stars agree the salon represents much more than a place to get a makeover.

“It symbolizes dreams,” Polanco, 38, told The News. “Small-business owners. What we like to call iconic figures within our community. They’re like hood celebrities, legends, what can I tell you? They’re there, and they have everybody’s back.”

“In the Heights” takes viewers inside the colorful salon during the lively song “No Me Diga.” But the women are also depicted outside the salon as significant figures within a neighborhood where every resident strives toward big goals.

Daniela, Carla and Cuca kick off the standout song-and-dance number “Carnaval del Barrio,” during which characters sing with reverence about their homelands.

“It’s a celebration of life in the face of all kinds of adversity,” Rubin-Vega, 51, told The News. “This determination to be joyous, and how powerful that in itself is. Yeah, it is beautiful to see flags flying and everybody going, ‘Oh, there I am!’ But more than that, it’s just that feeling of belonging.”

The “In the Heights” stage musical introduces Daniela and Carla as work partners, and the movie updates their relationship to be life partners as well.

“It’s just part of the background of the film, and that’s really vital, I think, for (LGBTQ) audiences to see themselves be part of the fabric of the film, and not necessarily have their stories always be coming-out stories or always be tragic stories or always be stories that are fraught with drama,” Beatriz said.

The actors felt personal connections to their characters. Beatriz, who was born in Argentina, remembers her mother befriending fellow customers and staffers at the salon she went to after moving to the U.S.

Polanco recalls her visits to a local salon when she was young, and loves how “In the Heights” covers that aspect of the community.

“It’s what instills confidence. It’s what instills trust, and amongst these three ladies, that’s what they give back to everyone else,” Polanco said. “In this community of Washington Heights, this is where they go to release, to motivate, to express, to get advice, to make harsh decisions, to console. It’s a revolving door of what I (call) noncertified therapy.”

The movie offers a window into the lives of many in the neighborhood.

“It’s just, ‘Get the cameras rolling and have a lot of people just enjoying and celebrating their life and telling a story,’ “ Rubin-Vega said. “It’s kind of as simple and as complex as that.”

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