By Lee Edwards, Chicago Crusader
Record-breaking Broadway musical “Hamilton” is taking over Chicago Public Schools (CPS) one performance at a time. As part of the newly expanded “Hamilton” Education Program, the first of 10 all CPS student matinee performances of “Hamilton” took place at The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago’s downtown on February 22.
Originally launched last year “Hamilton” on Broadway introduces an integrated curriculum into classrooms that focuses on Alexander Hamilton and America’s Founding Fathers leading up to a field trip for a “Hamilton” performance. “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton” producer Jeffrey Seller, The Rockefeller Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, among others, crafted the program.
The February 22 performance accommodated 1,900 students and teachers from 30 schools. By the end of 2017, 20,000 CPS high school students and teachers will have participated in the program.
Forrest Claypool, CPS CEO, said he was “thrilled” students would not only be taking a part in the program, but also have the opportunity to see a performance.
“By combining the study of American history with an appreciation for the arts, we are giving students the well-rounded education they need to become successful thinkers and leaders,” said Claypool. “Huge thanks to “Hamilton,” the local funders and Gilder Lehrman for providing Chicago’s youth with this unique opportunity.”
Seller explained the impact he hoped the “Hamilton” Education Program would have on students from New York City to Chicago and beyond.
“Our goal is to ensure that students have a shot to see “Hamilton” and use its words, music and staging to further their understanding and enjoyment of American History, music and drama,” said Seller.
Prior to the performance of “Hamilton,” students performed original songs, monologues, and poems in the spirit of the musical on The PrivateBank Theatre main stage followed by a Q&A period with members of the cast of Chicago’s production of “Hamilton.”
Sixteen-year-old Chloe Johnson, a junior at Lindblom Math and Science Academy, performed a rousing poem about African American poet Phillis Wheatley. She said with the help of her teacher, Ms. Liz, she was inspired to write about Wheatley after coming in contact with the book, “Three Centuries of American Poetry.” She said representing her school was an honor and credited her poetry group, Louder Than A Bomb, for helping her develop her creative writing and performance skills.
Johnson said she was excited to see the musical because due to the price of tickets she may not have seen it otherwise.
“It’s beautiful to see that all of us are getting an opportunity to see something like this,” said Johnson. “A long time ago it wasn’t normal for kids coming to see this and being taught theater etiquette and how to dress for shows and to be able to see something like this is beautiful to me.”
During the Q&A session, cast members answered preapproved questions from students in the audience. The speakers included actors Chris Lee, Wallace Smith, Ari Afsar, Jose Ramos, Samantha Marie Ware, and “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail. Questions ranged from what were cast members’ favorite Chicago pizza locations, what was it like for some cast members to perform in their hometown, and more.
Lee, who could be seen bobbing his head and dancing to the high school performers from his balcony seat, gave all the students in attendance a vote of confidence and support.
“It was crazy to watch you guys up there performing and to also watch the support you guys had for the performance because looking like you do, coming from what you come from, I don’t know if you understand the gravity of the opportunity you guys are blessed with to be able to have this outlet,” said Lee.