Emotion vibrated through New York’s United Palace theater Wednesday night as In the Heights finally screened for a live audience.
Applause broke out a dozen times during the musical’s world premiere at the Tribeca Festival. The sight of the opening titles on the big screen alone was enough to get star Anthony Ramos to leap to his feet and pump his fist.
The festival is the first major one in North America to host in-person screenings. The sheer relief of being able to experience a film without a mask (if vaccinated) and interact with other moviegoers felt like a revelation. The energy continued at the salsa-fied after-party at The Hudson, an expansive outdoor venue that filled up with enough mask-less, expressive revelers to feel like the Before Times.
Deadline Is Launching Its Tribeca Studio As Festival Gets Underway
“It’s beyond exciting and maybe a little overwhelming to be here together with this many people in the flesh, not on a screen,” Warner Bros chief Toby Emmerich said in his introductory remarks … If ever the world, if ever New York was ready for a block party, it is now.”
Lin-Manuel Miranda created the Tony-winning Broadway musical and starred in and produced the film. He acknowledged the multiple layers of meaning in standing on the historic stage in his home neighborhood, on which the film is based, introducing the premiere in a theater he and his family restored.
Before Hamilton made Miranda a megastar and “before I had any money,” he said, he funded half of a new screen and projection equipment at the United Palace in 2013. At age 19, he recalled, he started writing In the Heights, which he described as a “love letter” to the Upper Manhattan neighborhood.
“This is not a dream come true,” he said. “This is seven dreams come true at the same time.”
Chu noted that it was not his Tribeca debut. In 2003, the festival screened a short musical he made, When the Kids Are Away. That short film’s director of photography, Alice Brooks, also did the cinematography for In the Heights.
Fans didn’t have to wait long for the film to be released commercially. It is reaching theaters and HBO Max today. Tracking points to a healthy $20 million-plus opening.
While the United Palace seats about 3,300, attendance was limited to a few hundred people, seated in every other row. Even so, the reaction sounded robust and the punchlines still landed.
“Before Covid,” festival co-founder Robert De Niro said, “the simple act of going out to a movie theater was something that you would take for granted. Now, we remember that it’s a special event.”
On a corporate level, Warner Bros is once again facing a round of uncertainty as the proposed WarnerMedia-Discovery merger wends its way through the approval process. The night remained ebullient despite all of the uncertainty.
Emmerich thanked “our fearless leaders, Jason Kilar and Ann Sarnoff,” who didn’t deliver remarks but were in attendance. “They loved and backed this movie to the hilt.”
CNN and Turner Sports chief Jeff Zucker and HBO president and content chief Casey Bloys were among the other WarnerMedia execs spotted at the premiere.