- 19 Jan 2017
- The Record (Bergen County)
- JOHN PETRICK STAFF WRITER, @JOHNPETRICK85
For local students, ‘Hamilton’ up close, and free
Inspired Paterson kids meet cast members
As the house lights came up after Wednesday’s matinee of “Hamilton” on Broadway, Paterson high school student Emon Miah sat awe-struck in the mezzanine with fellow classmates.
JIM ANNESS/SPECIAL TO NORTHJERSEY.COMStudents from three Paterson schools, Eastside High School, JFK High School and Panther Academy, listened to cast members from the Broadway smash “Hamilton” after the performance on Wednesday afternoon. The Hamilton Project and the Rockefeller Foundation provided the schools with free tickets.
He needed to process it all, for a moment. “I never knew he had such an intriguing beginning,” he said of what he learned about Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington’s righthand man during the Revolutionary War and one of the nation’s Founding Fathers. “It made it easy for me to connect with.”
The junior at STEM Academy of JFK High School was with about 150 students from four Paterson high schools who got a chance to see the hottest show in town thanks to a partnership between the producers and creators of “Hamilton,” the Rockefeller Foundation, the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson and the Gilder Lehrman Institute that provides for thousands of metropolitan-area high school students to see the show for free or for as little as $10. The show swept the Tony Awards and has a huge sold-out advance, with some tickets reportedly going for unheard-of prices.
The students, who filled the mezzanine of the Richard Rodgers Theatre along with students from New York City public schools, were also treated to a Q&A session with members of the cast immediately after the performance. But aside from Alexander Hamilton himself, the real stars Wednesday were the students and teachers, who might otherwise never have had a chance to see such a show.
“It’s brilliant,” said Emily Delgado, a junior at the School of Government and Public Administration at Eastside High School, during intermission. “It’s amazing, just the way they transformed history into such a visual, foot-stomping performance.”
Jocelyn Mendez, a student at Paterson’s Panther Academy of Earth and Space Science, said the show was entertaining but still had intellectual heft. “It really gave you a lot to think about. It was so inspiring. I loved it.”
For many, this was their first time at a Broadway show, noted English teacher Thea Kalidas. “There is no theater program at Eastside. So for many, this is their only opportunity to see a piece of theater,” she said. “That these kids are here totally for free is absolutely amazing. I have had tears in my eyes during the performance, more than once. The kids have been remarkable.” And the show? “It’s beyond my expectations,” she said. “And my expectations were very high. It’s phenomenal. What they have done for this group of young students is fantastic.”
After the show, five cast members joined the students in the mezzanine section for a Q&A with associate company manager Holli Campbell.
“I was one of those guys who didn’t like musical theater. I always thought it was corny,” said Bryan Terrell Clark, who plays George Washington in the show. “But that’s what’s so powerful about this music . ... It sounds like NOW,” he said of the groundbreaking, sungthrough show with music, lyrics and book by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which merges aspects of hip-hop, rap, R&B and pop rock into its storytelling. As for the multiracial cast, he added: “It’s a great thing when we can look on a stage and see ourselves.”
Lauren Boyd, a member of the show’s ensemble, told the students they should never give up on their dreams. She said she committed herself to acting at an early age. “I said, ‘That’s what I want to do, and I am going to go after it.’ ... Things that look hard right now are only going to give you character. You all have your own unique story.”
Many of the Paterson students picked to attend the play made a class trip this month to see a traveling New York Historical Society exhibit about Alexander Hamilton at the Paterson Museum. In preparation for attending the play, the selected students have been working on class projects about Hamilton.
In a dialogue with the students in prior forums, Robin Gold of the Hamilton Partnership for Paterson nonprofit group has explained highlights of Hamilton’s life, including his role in the establishment of the nation’s first national bank and America’s credit system, as well as his support of the abolition of slavery. The Hamilton Partnership will pay for the Paterson students’ bus and lunch, and also cover the portion of the tickets not paid by the Rockefeller Foundation.
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