Have you ever wanted to know the behind-the-scenes moments of your all time favorite movies? How about learning first-hand how your favorite actor/actress felt shooting that it scene from your favorite cult classic and/or Oscar-winning film? Well, allow me to introduce to you all to uptown’s version of Inside the Actors Studio with Lin-Manuel Miranda… at least that’s how I would’ve named this film series happening north of midtown. As of mid January 2014, The United Palace of Cultural Arts has premiered a number of movie classics that Lin-Manuel (long uptown resident and creator of “In The Heights” Broadway/Tony-winning musical) has described as a “return of film to the Palace.” The United Palace (located in Washington Heights area) was built with the intent to premiere films, but with a failing economy, the space turned into a religious congregation/concert hall. Wanting to bring back the movie-viewing experience, dozens gathered and raised $50,000 via their Indiegogo campaign to pay for a projection system and to cover programming costs. The incentive behind the campaign was to promise moviegoers a series of classic films that holds special value to each New Yorker. Out of countless submissions, Miranda “picked six movies that embodies and defines the secret New York in [each of] our hearts.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda, UPCA Blog.
Sidenote: The UPCA is raising funds once again (via Indiegogo) to help replace the projector screen. The screen was installed in the 1950s and is slowly deteriorating – making it difficult to view all these great films. They’d like to have a new screen up and running before the premiere of “King Kong” (1933’s original classic) which is slated to debut on April 27, 2014. If you’d like to help donate, click here.
On February 23, 2014, the UPCA rolled out the red carpet for the movie”West Side Story” and made announcements that their honored guest would be none other than the legendary Rita Moreno. The evening was filled with anticipation as we movie fans rushed to the Palace. We stood in line anticipating Rita’s arrival, with hopes of catching a glimpse of her before showtime. Sadly, no pre-show glimpse . 😦 As showtime approached, we were let in slowly (the crowd was really massive) and we were greeted by ushers dressed in top hats and coattails. It all felt rather fancy – as if we had all stepped into a time warp arriving to the Oscars ala the 1960s. Thankfully, my friends planned ahead as to where we’d sit, so we all bum-rushed down the aisles to grab the closest seats to the stage. Best advice for special nights like these: theatre maps are your best friend – but I digress. lulz.
The show’s introduction was a FABULOUS dance number paying homage to the movie’s famous “Mambo” dance sequence, choreographed by the Jerome Robbins.
Post dance, Miranda did a little comic schpeel mixed with some background info of the movie – and then it was the moment we had all been anticipating: “And now, I’d like you all to welcome to the stage the legendary Rita Moreno!” [GASP] We all jumped out of our seats and applauded loudly. She was met with roaring applause and a standing ovation – and I think in this very moment is when we realized we were in the presence of greatness. After what seemed like a 20min ovation, she opens her mouth and we were introduced to this incredibly charismatic, comical and quick witted Latina. She spoke of her humble beginnings (living in East Harlem and Washington Heights) and how she got her start by acting in theatre. She then spoke about her career in film and television that included 50 movies – her most famous pictures: “Singin’ in the Rain” (1952), “The King and I” (1956) which is the same picture that put her on the map – and of course the extraordinary “West Side Story” (1961). FYI: she was and still is to this day, the only Latina actress who has won an Emmy, Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy, Tony and a Screen Actors Guild (SAG).
*Sidenote: The New York Times just ran an article featuring Rita Moreno’s appearance at the UPCA, and how Lin-Manuel Miranda prepared for the Q&A. To read full article, click here.
Q&A: Miranda & Moreno
As the Q&A continued, I couldn’t help but feel enveloped in their delightful rapport – felt so relaxed and natural – felt like I was watching an episode of Inside the Actors Studio with James Lipton. “If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?”– James Lipton. Sorry, I know I’m going off on a tangent, but I just had to! ha! Anyways, back to the story: Moreno would then go into great detail about her audition process; her triumphs and woes in shooting “West Side Story,” and the countless hours it took to shoot those unforgettable dance numbers. She also spoke briefly how dancing was not an instinctive trait but rather a process – however, she pushed through. That whole “when the going gets tough, the tough get going” mindset is what truly made my night. See, because up until now, I had only read about this woman through books and seen her work via PBS programming (Public Broadcasting System) – so, to see her in person and to see this film on the big screen, was truly a surreal moment.
So in summation, this was a phenomenal experience and was a great opportunity to cultivate the younger generation within the community Washington Heights. In this day and age of reality junk TV, this generation is growing up with nothing of substance. Pop culture nowadays is saturated with dehumanizing people of color, and this up-and-coming generation has been left with few, if any role models. I applaud Lin-Manuel Miranda and those likeminded who are making the initiative to educate and enrich our community. “Sunday Movies at the Palace” continues – this past Sunday was the premiere of “Ghostbusters” where they paid special tribute to the late, great Harold Ramis aka Dr. Egon Spengler. For dates and/or ticket info, log on to www.unitedpalace.org/upca. Till next time mi gente and “we’ll see you at the movies.”
Oh and PS: Here’s a little extra info for my readers: I’m a Fordham U. grad and a friend of mine (Nina, yes, I’m shouting you out girl! lulz) and fellow Fordham grad, spotted a pic of Miranda (on his site) wearing a Fordham University hoodie. Of course we would go to the “West Side Story” screening with our Fordham gear on, right? He was gracious enough to pose with us (in the picture down below) but little did I know we’d end up on Fordham U’s e-newsletter the following day – big shout to my girl Gina for the post! Two weeks post this event, I find out that Lin-Manuel’s wife is a Fordham University School of Law graduate – small world, eh? Here’s a BIG shout-out to all my Fordham ladies. Hey Fordham ladies, hey! 😉
— Roz Baron