By David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited
It was exhilarating watching thirteen hundred students from New York City public schools gather on Wednesday March 15th at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on Broadway for the continuation of an unprecedented partnership between the producers and creator of the musical HAMILTON, The Rockefeller Foundation, the Gilder Lehrman Institute and the NYC Department of Education. The partnership was funded through a $1.46 million grant provided by The Rockefeller Foundation. The matinee was the eighth of numerous performances dedicated entirely to a student audience over the course of the next year.
The innovative educational collaboration provides 20,000 New York City public school students with the opportunity to see HAMILTON on Broadway after studying it in their classrooms through an integrated curriculum designed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute.
This program gives students an introduction to one of the nation’s Founding Fathers and the birth of our democracy. Combined with classroom studies, the program encourages further engagement with and appreciation of American history.
In addition to seeing a performance of HAMILTON, students participated in a Q&A with members of the cast of HAMILTON. Brandon Victor Dixon (Aaron Burr), J. Quinton Johnson (Hercules Mulligan/James Madison), and Sasha Hollinger (Ensemble) answered pre-selected questions about the audition process for HAMILTON, the socio-cultural-historical importance of the musical, the transformative power of HAMILTON, and who might be “the funniest cast member.” Cast members Syndee Winters and Roddy Kennedy – who served as Masters of Ceremonies – asked the questions and fielded answers from their colleagues.
Student representatives presented original material – songs, rap, poetry, scenes and monologues – created as part of the integrated curriculum in their schools. Esteven Delacruz from the Bronx Early College Academy delivered a compelling monologue as King George. Ashley Avallos and Angie Salvador from the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies shared in the reading of their poem that focused on “not forgetting the ladies” in the founding of the country. Leon Faison from Bushwick School for Social Justice performed his engaging rap that focused on racism and slavery. Abe Hussein, Seth Phillip, and Matt Soto from Jersey City’s METS Charter School urged the importance of Paul Revere’s ride. Al Hassan, Jonathan Karov, and Olivia Perricone from Port Richmond High School rehearsed the events of the Boston Tea Party. And Janay Fields from Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women shared her “Who Am I” Poem about the life of Phillis Wheatley who was the first published African-American female poet.
Also presenting were Abraham Lincoln High School (Kayla Williams, Eddie Moree, and Carmela Ciocia); High School for Civil Rights (Rahilk McPherson and Tyreek Brown); KAPPA International High School (Rafia Chowdhury and Talitha Nieves); and Pelham Preparatory Academy (Laura Alarcon, Amy Ngo, and Christina Perez).
“On Wednesday March 15th, one of our greatest dreams for HAMILTON came true – sharing this musical with 1,300 high school students whose participation in the study program and reactions to the performance were unlike anything we’ve experienced before. We look forward to building on this educational program all over America,” said HAMILTON producer, Jeffrey Seller.
“The insights and enthusiasm of the students attending the matinees confirm that our partnership with Rockefeller and Gilder to work with 20,000 public school students and bring them to Hamilton is one of our best investments. There is no feeling on earth like performing for a theater full of students who are learning about our founders in class and seeing how it still relates to their own lives on stage,” said HAMILTON creator and star, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
“The partnership between HAMILTON and The Rockefeller Foundation is a game changer for 20,000 New York City public schools’ students. Today, the first 1,300 experienced something truly inspirational – the story of America’s founding fathers as told by actors and actresses who look just like them, through a transcendent Broadway musical created by a student of the New York public school system — just like them. We couldn’t throw away our shot at bringing Hamilton to the audience it could affect most, who otherwise might not have had the opportunity,” said Judith Rodin, President of The Rockefeller Foundation. “HAMILTON has the ability to reshape history, redefine racial and gender roles, and above all else, inspire – and that is what we hope happens for students here today. I’ve had this date in my calendar since we announced this partnership last fall – now that the day is finally here, I’m as excited as a tourist who won the Hamilton ticket lottery.”
A portion of the grant provided by The Rockefeller Foundation went to the Gilder Lehrman Institute to develop the “HAMILTON Education Program,” an in-class curriculum designed around the musical. The program includes a “Hamilton Student Performance and Study Guide” and an online “HAMILTON” portal for students and teachers that offers students a creative platform for developing and producing their own original performances of poetry, rap, songs, scenes and other art expressions, to be performed at the theater prior to watching a performance of HAMILTON.
Today’s group of participating high schools was selected by the New York City Department of Education and included Abraham Lincoln High School, Brooklyn; Bronx Early College Academy; Brooklyn School for Career Development; Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies; Bushwick School for Social Justice; Harlem Renaissance High School; High School for Civil Rights, Brooklyn; It Takes a Village Academy, Brooklyn; KAPPA International High School, Bronx; Leadership and Public Service High School, New York; METS Charter School, Jersey City; NYC Museum School; Pelham Preparatory Academy, Bronx; Port Richmond High School, Staten Island; Urban Assembly School of Business for Young Women, New York; World Academy for Total Community Health High School, Brooklyn; and Young Women’s Leadership School of Queens.
“This project is transformative. Twenty thousand students will experience American history in a new way and find their own connections to the Founding Era, to the performing arts, and to the future of our country,” said James G. Basker, President of The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“Our students are living history at the theater through this transformative and powerful experience,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña. “I thank the Miranda family for assuring that their passion for history and music is shared by New York City students. This musical will impact the lives of thousands of students and connect to enriching curriculum, undoubtedly sparking passion and an understanding of how inspiring history can be in the classroom, in our great City, and beyond.”
The Rockefeller Foundation has a long history of supporting the arts and humanities, fueled by a belief that the cultivation of aesthetic sensibilities through literature, music, and other fine arts is essential to the well-being of humanity. Today’s program underscored the Foundation’s commitment to nurturing the vitality of New York City’s cultural institutions and the role of the arts as a catalyst for social change.
Tickets will cost only $10.00 for the students, who will attend Wednesday matinees through 2017.
The HAMILTON producers are making tickets for this educational partnership available for $70.00 each, $60.00 of which is being subsidized by The Rockefeller Foundation.
With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical direction and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, HAMILTON is based on Ron Chernow’s biography. HAMILTON is the story of America’s Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary. HAMILTON’s score blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway – the story of America then, as told by America now.