‘In the Heights’ Premiere Celebrates the Neighborhood That Started It All
In Washington Heights’ Plaza de las Americas, fruit and vegetable vendors typically sell their produce until dusk. But on Wednesday it was turned into a replica of another block in the neighborhood. There was a fake bodega adorned with three Dominican flags hanging from an awning, an artificial hydrant, and a plastic fruit stand. A yellow carpet ran under the entire set.
The reproduction served as a backdrop for the luminaries who attended the premiere of In the Heights, the theatrical adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Tony-winning Broadway show. The sunny carpet welcomed the cast and crew back to the Upper Manhattan area where it was filmed. The premiere, which also served as the opening night of the 20th Tribeca Festival, took place at the United Palace, a majestic 91-year-old theater with a projection system that had helped Miranda raise money, years before its success on Broadway, years earlier then helped with the installation.
As the actors, producers and executives flocked to the yellow carpet, pausing for photos with photographers and interviews with the news media, the real Washington Heights hummed behind them. Waitresses at the Malecon, a Dominican restaurant across the street from the square, peered out the window between the windows, serving rice, chicken, and beans, trying to figure out why crowds had formed outside their restaurant on a sticky 90 degree day.
Diners at El Conde Nuevo, another Dominican restaurant across the street, stood on the corner, also trying to decipher the hustle and bustle outside. And then Miranda – in a light blue long-sleeved chacabana, jeans, and the same Nike Air Force 1s, often called Uptowns in the City – that he wore to the Broadway opening of In the Heights – came with his family. and everyone burst out cheering.
Jorge Peguero, 71, was on his way home when he stopped and became a proud member of the crowd.
“I’ve lived here all my life and it’s fantastic,” said Peguero, who has lived in Washington Heights since 1969. “It’s a big deal that Tribeca represents the Dominican community, and it’s the first time we’ve seen something like this.”
Miranda, who still lives in Washington Heights, was hoping to premiere the film where it takes place.
“All I always wanted was for this neighborhood to be proud of itself and the way they are portrayed,” said Miranda, who was within walking distance of his home and his parents’ home. “I still walk around here with my headphones on, and they’re all just as fine as Lin-Manuel writes.”
“I feel safe here,” he added.
Many Washington Heights residents have never met Miranda in the neighborhood. Eglis Suarez, 48, wanted to change that.
“I want to see Lin,” she said. “We are so proud, this is progress for this community and for the city.”
Exuberant and critically admired, In the Heights, directed by Jon M. Chu, is a look at the changes taking place between first and second generation immigrants. The elders hope they can manage to get out of the neighborhood they left home for, while their younger colleagues plan to stay in the neighborhood they call home. It’s a story that happened a million times in the area and the Hudes, who also lives there, encounters daily during the filming.
“This is not about a hero or protagonist, but what happens when a community holds their hands together and life kind of pushes those hands apart,” said Hudes, who wore large hoops and a floral jumpsuit. “It’s about these blocks and these living rooms that you go to after school and do your homework or play bingo during a power outage, everything is here.”
Washington Heights has been home to middle and working class Dominicans since the 1960s. In the 1980s, like many others in the city, the neighborhood was inundated with cocaine and crack, making it unsafe for the community. Those days are over now and some residents say it is time to get away from a narrative in countless films and rap songs that no longer fits the neighborhood.
“I’m so proud of this movie,” said Sandra Marin Martinez, 67, a lifelong resident of Washington Heights. “Who wouldn’t be? At least there is no shooting. “
“Everyone dances, these are my people, I grew up dancing here,” she added while waiting for a look at the cast entering the theater.
Yudelka Rodriguez, 51, stood with her daughter, waiting for the cast to arrive. She was excited to see her hood represented in the film and herself.
“I’m so emotional,” said Rodriguez as she leaned against a metal gate. “It’s the best part to see your barrio involved; That’s the best feeling. “
Paula Weinstein, an organizer of the Tribeca Festival (which this year removed “film” from its name) hoped to reproduce this feeling across the city with this film.
“We dreamed of it – New York is back,” said Weinstein. “This is a tribute to the Dominican community, this is the best of New York. Each generation of immigrants is founded in one place and moves into the community. That’s the great thing about New York, that’s what we want to celebrate. “
In the theater, Robert De Niro, a founder of the festival, introduced Miranda, who then introduced the rest of the cast. The power was electric from the stage to the seats. When a title card labeled “Washington Heights” appeared on the screen, the crowd cheered and applauded.
When the star of the film, Anthony Ramos, arrived, the makeshift set was surrounded by a small crowd. When he came out in black and white cheetah print trousers, a matching shirt, and a jacket that he carried carefully on his shoulders, the crowd on the corner of 175th and Broadway thundered in applause and cheers.
“I didn’t even grow up on Broadway, and most New Yorkers didn’t grow up on Broadway,” says Ramos, a native of Brooklyn. “To tell a New York story about a community that is so familiar and special to the New York people is very special to me.”