Lin-Manuel Miranda's Uptown Film Series Reintroduces New Yorkers to "West Side Story" and a Hidden Cultural Gem

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21 Feb 2014

Lin-Manuel Miranda
Lin-Manuel Miranda
Photo by Corey Hayes

"Sundays at the Palace with Lin-Manuel Miranda," a new film series hosted and curated by the In the Heights Tony winner, launched earlier this year at the opulent United Palace Theatre in Washington Heights.

The series kicked off with "The Muppets Take Manhattan," and such movies as "Manhattan, "King Kong," "The Warriors" and "Ghostbusters" are scheduled to follow.

Theatre lovers are in for a special treat Feb. 23 at 4 PM when Miranda will host a screening of the film adaptation of the 1957 Broadway musical West Side Story with the film's Academy Award-winning star Rita Moreno as a special guest.

Miranda spoke with about the new film series and his lifelong connection with West Side Story.

Many New Yorkers aren't aware of how gorgeous the United Palace Theatre is. It's a real treasure. How did this film series come about?
LMM: It came in the wake of our In the Heights reunion concert that we had there last year. I've known Mike Fitelson, who runs the Cultural Center at the United Palace, for a long time. He's in charge of this amazing theatre. That's how we had the idea to do the In the Heights reunion concert in the heart of Washington Heights last year. I fell in love with the the theatre, as most people do when they walk into it. Mike asked me, "Well, what do you want to do here? Is there a show you're working on for the theatre that you want to put up here?" And, I said, "No, this place is enormous! I don’t think that big! But I would love to see a movie in here." That was my first reaction: "If you can get a screen and a projector and we can watch movies like the old school multiplexes, like the Palace used to be." The last movie that was shown there was "Mary Poppins" back in the 1960's. So me and a bunch of other uptown artists raised $40,000 last year for them to get a screen and a projector.

How did you go about selecting the films in the series?
LMM: I loved the idea of picking awesome movies that I've always wanted to see on the big screen and then sort of making it our own little film club. We decided that for this year the theme would be New York City, so we picked some movies that we'd love to see on that enormous screen. I'm in charge of programing fun little skits to do before the movies. For "Muppets Take Manhattan" last month. I got John Tartaglia to sing "Saying Goodbye" and I interviewed Lonny Price, who is in that movie with all the Muppets.

You also have a pretty incredible special guest for West Side Story.
LMM: We've got Rita Moreno to come introduce "West Side Story" I think, we'll do a Q&A, but probably it's just going to be a Q [laughs] and then Rita is going to put on a show because you’ve seen how amazing she is when she gets in front of a crowd. She’s so incredible in front of an audience, so I look forward to talking to her and setting up "West Side Story." I feel like any musical theatre fan owes it to themselves to take the A train up to 175th and catch this. Rita Moreno introducing "West Side Story" isn't going to happen every day. I tried to pick movies that weren't just great movies but time capsules of New York at specific times. "West Side Story" captures Hell's Kitchen before Lincoln Center existed. The streets they are running through, where Lincoln Center is now, was that old neighborhood. All the tenements were razed. Priscilla Lopez lived in that neighborhood. She and her brothers are extras in the playground set in the first scene that the Jets are walking through! Matthew Lopez, her nephew, who is an incredible playwright in his own right, wrote a play about it, called Somewhere.


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