As the blockbuster musical Hamilton nears the end of its month-long stay at the Music Hall at Fair Park, more than 3,200 students from 56 high schools from Dallas-Fort Worth and beyond were treated to a special matinee performance of the show on May 2.
Dallas is among a select list of cities taking part in the Hamilton Education Program (aka EduHam), which integrates a special curriculum into schools that uses a combination of historical documents from the Founding Era and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrical masterpiece to teach the history of Alexander Hamilton and America’s Founding Fathers. Other cities that were offered the same opportunity during this school year include Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Detroit, District of Columbia, Fort Lauderdale, Hartford, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York, Pittsburgh, and Tampa.
The program was made possible by The Gilder Lehrman Institute, which partnered with the producers of Hamilton and the Miranda family as part of the institute's broader mission to improve the teaching and learning of American history. Along the lines of the Ham4Ham lottery the show has in place in every city, every student who was chosen to participate in the program was allowed to purchase their ticket for only $10. The reduced pricing is made possible through funding by The Rockefeller Foundation and other national and local donors.
As part of the curriculum, students completed a project that required them to create original songs, raps, poems, or dramatic scenes inspired by their analysis of historical source materials and lyrics from the musical. Prior to the performance, select students from various participating schools were able to perform their pieces in front of their peers and Hamilton cast members Fergie L. Phillippe, Elijah Malcomb, and Kyle Scatliffe.
A total of 15 groups or individuals took the stage, including Sonny Wu from Daingerfield High School in East Texas and Osadolor Osawemwenze from Lake Highlands High School in Dallas. Neither boy was all that familiar with Hamilton prior to attending the show, although that unfamiliarity had no impact on the quality of their pieces.
Wu, who said he's only been rapping for a month to prepare for this event, performed a rap entitled "Aaron Burr" that matched and possibly exceeded the speed of the one the Marquis de Lafayette (Scatliffe) delivers in the song "Guns and Ships."
"The thing about going fast is you have to be more focused on the syllables," Wu said. "If you can enunciate your syllables better, then it makes it easier to flow going fast."
Osawemwenze performed a spoken word piece entitled "The Forgotten Prince," highlighting the little-known Prince Whipple, a slave who found himself up close to none other than George Washington.
"I was asking my teacher if there were any black figures during this time period that she thought I could do, and she pointed me to Prince Whipple," Osawemwenze said. "She showed me the (painting Washington Crossing the Delaware) – you see in the background this one black person rowing the boat, and I was like, 'Who’s that?' That’s Prince Whipple."
A matinee showing of Hamilton followed the student performances, and watching Hamilton with over 3,000 teenagers is an experience almost as impressive as the Tony-winning musical itself. Malcomb, who plays John Laurens/Philip Hamilton on the tour, said that when the tour did their first EduHam in Seattle, it was like a wall of sound being thrown at them. That was certainly the case at this performance, as the students greeted the start of the show and the finish of each song with the ferocity of a rock concert.
Despite what might be the stereotype for teenagers, the crowd remained respectful and engaged throughout the show. The collective lack of knowledge of the musical by the students led to a variety of unusual reactions and non-reactions. Two moments that garner big cheers from the typical audience — the introduction of Alexander Hamilton in the opening song and the line "Immigrants, we get the job done" in "Yorktown" — passed by with barely a murmur.
On the flip side, the teens let out huge disbelieving gasps to Aaron Burr revealing he was sleeping with the wife of a British officer in "Wait For It," and to Hamilton cheating with Maria Reynolds in "Say No to This." Neither of those moments garners near the same reaction from those who are more familiar with the show.