The message of “Hamilton” is that history has its eyes on you and you can do anything you want with this life as long as you just don’t stop. Just like Alexander Hamilton, who started his hero’s journey at age 19.
That message was heard loudly and clearly by some 2,400 lucky students from 13 area high schools who took in a special Thursday matinee of the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that continues it’s sold-out run at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Minneapolis through October 7.
The crowd at the Orpheum was a sight to see, to be sure: Brought together by the area nonprofit Project Success, a theater full of kids representing different cultures watching the history lesson-slash-reimagining-slash-dream-of America of their generation live on stage, all of which provided a bit of hope on a grotesquely hopeless day in America.
In Washington, D.C., there was a collective soul-sucking horror show; in Minneapolis, though: a boisterous, woke, coming-of-age rainbow coalition that — like its freedom-fighting superhero Alexander Hamilton before them — now regularly speaks up in the face of injustice and comfortably and confidently speaks truth to power. That youthful energy, the melding of so many multi-generation immigrants, the beaming faces of teachers, and the teens’ obvious passion for the “Hamilton” story and songs, created a constant buzz in the room that felt not unlike a real-life playing out of the musical’s most addictive earworm, “My Shot,” which goes, “Hey yo, I’m just like my country/I’m young, scrappy, and hungry.”
“I wouldn’t say the students are a less-reserved audience, but they really let go,” said “Hamilton” cast member Conroe Brooks. “They really laugh, and scream, and cry. I remember some of our first performances of this, and I would hear kids audibly crying in the audience. Which you hear sometimes with the regular performances, but it just seems like there’s a lot more going on with these kids. They really feel it and that is a special thing.”
Reduced student tickets came courtesy of the EduHam in Minneapolis education program, in which students spent several weeks in their classrooms studying Hamilton and the founding fathers. Not only did the students attend the high-buck and high-talent production, some (from Burnsville, Creative Arts Secondary School, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Murray Iowa Community School, Patrick Henry, River’s Edge Academy, Roosevelt, Roseville, South, and Tartan) performed original “Hamilton”-inspired raps, songs, and poems on the Orpheum stage before the performance.
“Where we’re at now is nowhere compared to where we were, because in that time I would probably not be doing this. I’d be in the house, serving others,” said Naje Wright, a student at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis who read her poem “Hit or Miss.” “But what I learned about Alexander Hamilton is that there are some people who are famous but they are not spoken about. Like, they did big things but they’re so little now, you know? And then now people are actually starting to notice how many people actually put their blood, and sweat, and tears, and love and light and privacy into creating this country.”
“It’s interesting to see how a lot of the attitudes haven’t really changed that much,” said Edison High School’s Connor Arneson, who, along with his twin brother Brandon performed a rap battle between — who else? — George Washington and Benedict Arnold. “The spirit of the revolution is as alive today as it was 250 years ago — in a different form, obviously. I really like history, so it’s really cool to have other people be exposed to history that’s very consumable and makes it fun to learn.”
The students also participated in a Q&A with members of the “Hamilton” cast that gleaned such trivia gems as the actors’ favorite colors, pre-show rituals, favorite things about working in Minneapolis (“the food” and “Paisley Park because Prince is amazing”), and a distaste for time travel (“If I had a time machine I might not use it because… slavery,” said actor Kyle Scattlife, which brought down the house with student laughter.)
“The show is special to perform no matter who’s in the house, because people identify with it in different ways and people really have a visceral experience when they see the show,” said cast member Phil Colgan. “But when it’s students who both see themselves up there and relate to the show because of its music or its message, it becomes a rock concert. It becomes a really special experience of us feeling the show being received in a more whole-hearted, unabashed way. We can feel it and they can, too.”
The next EduHam edition of “Hamilton” takes place October 4 at the Orpheum Theater, with 17 high schools participating.