Aaron Sorkin's Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird was the first play to ever be shown at Madison Square Garden
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Madison Square Garden was buzzing Wednesday as thousands of people packed into the famous arena, but it wasn’t because of the Knicks or the Rangers.

About 18,000 middle and high school students, hailing from New York City public schools in all five boroughs, filled the stadium for a free performance of Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway smash To Kill a Mockingbird.

The performance marked the first ever play to perform at Madison Square Garden, requiring more ear monitors, microphones and speakers than most rock concerts. The script was unchanged for the Broadway production, which currently features Ed Harris (Westworld) as Atticus Finch, but the staging was adapted for the arena and the show was broadcast on big screens so everyone could see.

Executive chairman and CEO of the Madison Square Garden Company, James L. Dolan, donated the venue rent free as well as all in-house expenses.

To Kill a Mockingbird frequently sells out in its regular home at the Shubert Theater and has become the highest grossing American play in Broadway history. The students, filing in with palpable excitement, proved to be a lively audience for the adaptation of the classic Harper Lee novel.

To Kill A Mockingbird Madison Square Garden February 26, 2020
Credit: Little Fang
To Kill A Mockingbird Madison Square Garden February 26, 2020
Credit: Jenny Anderson

The group cheered, clapped and groaned at various moments throughout the play — most notably erupting when Atticus Finch finally loses his temper and begins fighting with the racist Bob Ewell. They lit up the stadium with phone flashlights when the cast, joined by several school choirs, sang a hymn at the close of the play.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and first lady Chirlane McCray introduced the show before Oscar-winning filmmaker and New York native Spike Lee gave his own opening remarks.

Ed Harris(C)is seen during Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mockingbird", a new play by Aaron Sorkin at Madison Square Garden on February 26, 2020 in New York City. - The performance is the first-ever Broadway play performed at Madison Square Garden with an entirely free performance for 18,000 New York City public school students
Credit: ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty
To Kill A Mockingbird Madison Square Garden February 26, 2020
Credit: Jenny Anderson

Lee urged the students to “please listen to the words” of the play after sharing that his mother “dragged” him to Broadway plays and movies as a child, ultimately informing his decision to become a filmmaker.

“There’s gonna be somebody here today who says, ‘I want to be a playwright,’” Lee said, to which someone in the audience responded, “Me!”

“‘I want to act,’ ‘I want to spend the rest of my life being an artist,’” the director, 62, continued. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t be an artist.”

For tickets to To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway, visit the play’s website.