By Sophia Howard
“How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor…” end up on a stage, on Broadway, in front of 400 students from Mamaroneck High School?
This past month, the entire 11th grade had the incredible opportunity to attend the Broadway show “Hamilton.” Corresponding with the U.S. History and Government curricula, “Hamilton” tells the compelling story of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. However, this production is not a normal Broadway performance. In the place of usual show tunes were more modern-style pop, rap and R&B numbers. That’s how LinManuel Miranda, the mastermind behind the music and lyrics, wanted it. For the play, Miranda created songs that were incredibly intricate, with historical references woven into couplets and verses intermixed with excerpts from historical documents, Shakespeare quotes, lyrics from the Notorious B.I.G. and lines from other Broadway shows. The music complements the lights, which shine down over 500 different cues, changing as the actors bounce to the beat of the next “Cabinet Rap Battle.” The set is constantly moving and changing. Each character is played by actors of various ethnicities and races, reflecting what The New York Times has called “America then told by America now.”
The musical has been incredibly popular. When it first opened on Broadway, the show had a multi-million dollar increase in ticket sales, taking in $30 million. Since its opening in September of 2015, “Hamilton” has been reported as sold out for most of its remaining engagement.
With the high demand and increasing prices, how did MHS get over 400 tickets to the show? The answer is through the enormous time and efforts of Principal Elizabeth Clain, Superintendent Robert Shaps, Jayne Lipman and all other faculty, community members and administrators who contributed.
Lipman, the mother of a student at MHS, came up with the idea when she saw “Hamilton” with her grown daughter during one of its off-Broadway performances. Lipman noticed that the production rekindled her daughter’s interest in the Founding Fathers. In an interview with The Globe, Lipman shared that the play “got [her] thinking that this would be a great, even essential way for students currently taking American history to become really excited about what they were learning, and to be exposed to this new, completely groundbreaking 21st century musical.” Lipman also stated that, “The show’s diverse cast and its choice of rap, hiphop, jazz, and more traditional Broadway-style music also seemed to be a way of connecting with a younger, more diverse audience, even if one wasn’t particularly drawn to musical theater.” Lipman recognized that the show would be of interest to many students and at the same time have educational value. “I’d heard Dr. Shaps and Ms. Clain speak often about the District’s focus on authentic and experiential learning” Lipman said, “and thought that seeing ‘Hamilton’ would be the ultimate form of experiential learning at its best.” With this in mind, she presented the idea in March to Clain and Shaps, who were enthusiastic and supportive about the idea.
Clain began to work on scheduling and other logistics while Lipman took care of fundraising. The tickets proved to be relatively easy to reserve so early in advance, which left more time to collect funds. The fundraising began with phone calls across the community. “I have to tell you,” Lipman said, “every call I made was received enthusiastically, and both those who had seen the show and those who hadn’t agreed to make a donation.” In the end, with the help of community donations and a generous amount of money granted by the Mamaroneck Schools Foundation, the juniors only ended up having to pay $40 each.
Meanwhile, the juniors were busy preparing in their own ways. Along with adhering to the usual curriculum, students in both Advanced Placement and Regents
U.S. history classes devoted X and Y days to studying Hamilton, becoming familiar with the “ten- dollar Founding Father.” Caroline Scudder, who teaches both courses, reported being excited to add this feature to the curriculum. She described it as a way to allow her students to “view history through a completely different medium.” Additionally, students spent time in their English classes analyzing lyrics and sitting in on lessons with the music department to learn more about the styles and rhythms they would witness in the show.
Students were beyond excited in the days leading up to “Hamilton,” with many downloading the soundtrack and learning the lyrics, and some even posting to social media about the event. One student, Emmeline Chuy ’17, tweeted a picture of her annotated lyrics to the opening song, “Alexander Hamilton.” Lin-Manuel Miranda, who plays Alexander Hamilton, liked the tweet, resulting in much excitement from teachers and students alike.
On Dec. 2 and 9, buses departed MHS at the end of lunch and headed to the city, where the students viewed the 2 p.m. matinee. Following the show, students were able to talk with some of the cast, the stage manager, the conductor and the associate choreographer.
Students were permitted to ask questions as they pleased, and had the opportunity to speak with Miranda himself and Jonathan Groff, a well-known cast member who was previously on “Glee.” Students learned about the process of playing the roles of historical figures with a modern twist, heard about the actors’ personal stories, and discovered more about Miranda’s process in writing the revolutionary songs in the play. “We had the talk [with the cast] and all the actors were all there,” Assistant Principal Michael-Joseph Mercanti-Anthony described. “[Afterwards] all of the actors went out to the stage door on the street, and people were screaming and signing autographs and getting pictures, so it was so cool that people were fighting to get close to them and we had just gotten to talk to them alone for 15 minutes.”
Students agreed, finding the entire experience unforgettable and learning more than they had even realized. “It was unbelievably amazing,” Sophia Danziger ’17 shared. Lauren Pogostin ’17 agreed, saying, “‘Hamilton’ was the best thing I’ve experienced in high school.”