NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Thousands of New York City public school students were at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday to watch one of the biggest smashes on Broadway — for free.

The production was “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and CBS2’s Cindy Hsu got a chance to talk to students at the world’s most famous arena.

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In all, 18,000 middle and high schoolers from all five boroughs were on hand to see the hottest ticket on Broadway.

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To Kill a Mockingbird has grossed more than $100 million so far. In addition to eight shows a week at the Shubert Theater, the cast rehearsed for a month for the special performance at the Garden. It took three days to transform center court into center stage.

A special performance of the Broadway smash “To Kill A Mockingbird” was staged at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 26, 2020. (Photo: CBS2)

“We’re re-staging it completely differently. If you’re looking out here, it’s all layered out. One end is the courtroom, then the other end is the porch, and they travel from space to space,” director Bart Sher said.

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The play, written by Aaron Sorkin, is based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel published 60 years ago about a man wrongly accused of rape. And while the story is set in Alabama in 1934, the students said the subject matter still rings true today.

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“It deals with so many issues that are still relevant in today’s world, so I really appreciate that they turned it into a show so that it’s so much more interesting,” said Alissa Di Cristo of Edward R. Murrow High School.

The play is about racial injustice, but also courage and compassion.

“I think it’s so powerful because the lawyer, the main character Atticus Finch, how he’s able to overcome racial prejudice to stand up for Tom Robinson,” Edward R. Murrow’s Brianna Banful said.

It stars Ed Harris as Finch and Nina Grollman as his daughter, Scout. Actor Kyle Scatliffe plays Robinson, the man wrongly accused. Scatliffe said the special performance for the students is especially meaningful during Black History Month.

“You can see the two perspectives of what people think life is actually like in that time period and I think that’s really important, especially in this month and especially for all the students who are coming to watch it,” Scatliffe said.

Before Wednesday, a Broadway play had never been performed at the Garden. And for many of the students, To Kill a Mockingbird is the first Broadway show they’ve ever seen.

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“I’ve never been to a concert or a Broadway show and this big venue, it’s just super exciting. And to see 18,000 kids, it’s really an unspeakable opportunity,” Edward R. Murrow student Andy Lin said.