Students from Leaders in Learning High School in Monroe take their seats and some selfies near the front of the stage before the start of student performances of “Hamilton” on Wednesday at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Students from Leaders in Learning High School in Monroe take their seats and some selfies near the front of the stage before the start of student performances of “Hamilton” on Wednesday at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

‘Near-transformative experience’ when students see ‘Hamilton’

Teens from Snohomish County were “blown away” by their day at a Seattle theater.

Makenzee Eddleman and Tiara Walker took the stage at the Paramount Theatre, a Seattle landmark. It’s now the venue for “Hamilton,” the hottest ticket from Broadway to the West Coast.

Belting out an edgy song about Thomas Jefferson, they referenced the founding father as a slave owner with their lyrics “You sure gotta lot of nerve” and “They should be free.”

They aren’t “Hamilton” cast members. Eddleman, 16, and 18-year-old Walker are students at Leaders in Learning High School in Monroe. They were among 21 students from their school and about 60 from Marysville Pilchuck High School who attended the show Wednesday as part of a Hamilton Education Program. In all, some 2,800 teens and chaperones packed the Paramount.

Marysville Pilchuck junior Laura Davis, 17, also performed a short piece onstage during the day that ended with a full performance of “Hamilton.”

Makenzee Eddleman, 16 (right), and Tiara Walker, 18, from Leaders in Learning High School in Monroe, wave to a packed crowd in the Paramount Theatre and walk off the stage where they would later see “Hamilton” after performing a song Wednesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Makenzee Eddleman, 16 (right), and Tiara Walker, 18, from Leaders in Learning High School in Monroe, wave to a packed crowd in the Paramount Theatre and walk off the stage where they would later see “Hamilton” after performing a song Wednesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

“They were completely blown away,” said Blake Baird, principal of the Monroe alternative school. “A significant portion of my students had never even left Monroe. They not only got to see the show, they got to go to Seattle.”

Baird said one student described the show as a “near-transformative experience.”

That’s some accomplishment for a tale that takes its audience from pre-American Revolution days to Alexander Hamilton’s death by duel in 1804. Its appeal is how creator Lin-Manuel Miranda rewrote history into catchy rap, hip-hop and soul music — inspired by Ron Chernow’s 818-page biography “Alexander Hamilton.”

Organized by the New York-based Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the program brings teens from Title I schools — those with significant numbers of kids from low-income families — to see “Hamilton” in select cities.

Wednesday’s program was the second “Hamilton” matinee in Seattle for students, whose tickets cost $10 each. Emily Krahn, a spokeswoman with the Seattle Theatre Group that operates the Paramount, said 5,700 students in all attended two special matinees.

Marysville Pilchuck junior Laura Davis (bottom front in flowered dress) joins other high school students from the region back on the Paramount stage at the conclusion of student performances Wednesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck junior Laura Davis (bottom front in flowered dress) joins other high school students from the region back on the Paramount stage at the conclusion of student performances Wednesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

As part of the program that included curriculum related to early U.S. history, 21 students performed short, original pieces. There were raps, poems and lyrical songs about the Revolutionary era. The performances had to tell about a person, an incident or a historical document. To qualify for a stage performance, kids submitted videos of their acts.

Davis, the Marysville Pilchuck junior, recited a dramatic poem she wrote about Theodosia Burr Alston. She was the daughter of Aaron Burr, the U.S. vice president known for killing Hamilton in a duel. “And me, I’m the damn fool that shot him,” the Burr character says in the musical.

Using the National Archives, Davis researched letters Theodosia Burr had written to her father. The wife of a South Carolina governor, she died at 29 when a schooner she was aboard, “The Patriot,” was lost at sea. “She was one of the best-educated women of her day,” said Davis, who is working on a novel of her own.

Eddleman said she and Walker wrote the song that “dissed Jefferson.” After their performance, she added “it was so exciting.” Walker, asked what she would take away from the day, said “the memories.”

Later, “Hamilton” cast members sat onstage for a question-and-answer session. Ta’Rea Campbell, who plays Angelica Schuyler, answered a question about what issues from the 1700s remain today. “Racism and inequality are still with us,” she said.

A question-and-answer time with a dozen members of the “Hamilton” cast is part of the experience sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Here, the cast addresses questions from the young audience. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

A question-and-answer time with a dozen members of the “Hamilton” cast is part of the experience sponsored by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Here, the cast addresses questions from the young audience. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

After a lunch break came the day’s highlight — the wow-it’s-great performance of “Hamilton.”

Conroe Brooks, who has played George Washington and King George, was an enthusiastic emcee. He encouraged kids to cheer for every school. “It’s love and light in this room,” he said.

Before the cheers, the day began with a somber recognition that students nationwide were walking out to protest gun violence and in honor of 17 people killed Feb. 14 by a gunman in Florida. The student performers, Eddleman among them, came onstage to read names of those killed at Stoneman Douglas High School.

Tim Bailey, director of education for the Gilder Lehrman Institute, said that along with the “Hamilton” effort, the nonprofit offers resources to 17,000 schools through an affiliate program. The group sponsors summer seminars for teachers, and a National History Teacher of the Year recognition.

So far, about 40,000 teens have seen the show, Bailey said. “The goal is, over five years, to have reached 250,000 students,” he said.

The program gives students access to a website that includes interviews with Chernow, Miranda and cast members, plus “Hamilton” scenes and music. Discussion includes artistic license, the difference between historical accuracy and historical integrity.

Marysville Pilchuck junior Laura Davis, 17, performs her original poem on stage in the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Marysville Pilchuck junior Laura Davis, 17, performs her original poem on stage in the Paramount Theatre on Wednesday. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Bailey had several goals for the school program. The first was for students to learn the history. “That’s critical to who we are as a country,” he said. He wanted kids to analyze complicated texts, create arguments based on facts and communicate through performance.

“Lastly was to have an educational experience they would never forget,” he said.

Cheering high school kids weren’t the only ones taking away unforgettable memories. Cast members gave kudos to their young audience. Campbell replied when asked about the most eye-opening experience while touring with the show.

“This right now,” she said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@herald net.com.

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