The atmosphere inside the PrivateBank Theatre was electric March 15 as hundreds of Chicago high school students filed in to watch their peers perform on the “Hamilton” stage.
It was the third of what would be 10 student performances during 2017.
By the end of a special education program tying “Hamilton’” to their American History studies, 20,000 Chicago high school students will have seen their peers perform in the morning followed by a regular Hamilton matinee.
Students were asked to come up with their own words and songs about Hamilton and the early years of our nation based on their class studies. Then some of them are chosen to do their works before their classmates at PrivateBank Theatre. All the students received tickets to the show following the student performances.
The high school performers were terrific but a personally gratifying feeling came during during lunch break when chatting with some of the high school performers.
I asked Jocelyn Santos and Julia White, from Noble Street Charter – Pritzker College Prep who recited their work: “We are the People,” how they viewed the “Hamilton” phenomenon.
“It was interesting how they put the pieces together. I thought wow, its amazing to see how they took a big idea and were able to put it all together,” Santos said.
“It made me think that history is not boring,” said White. “I learned so much,” she said.
Epic Academy Charter High School student Carmen Villagomez who sang a piece she wrote based on Thomas Payne, connected to Hamilton’s roots and drive.
“ I heard about the play. I liked that Hamilton was an orphan and I liked that he was an immigrant. My mother was an immigrant,” Villagomez said. She added, “It told me that you can do anything.”
When playwright Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” based on Ron Chernow’s biographical book, “Alexander Hamilton,” hit the Broadway stage he awoke what appears to be a formidable interest in early American history and in Hamilton.
It even stopped the Treasury Department from replacing this Founding Father’s visage on the $10 bill.
Now, youngsters who may have trouble remembering some of the phrases in the US Constitution remember all the lyrics about the War of Independence and the Constitutional convention as rapped in “Hamilton.”
“This project is transformative,” said James G. Basker, President of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“Twenty thousand students in New York City, Chicago and other cities where “Hamilton” tours will experience American history in a new way and find their own connections to the Founding Fathers, to the performing arts, and to the future of our country,” Basker said.