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Seeing the hottest show in Seattle changed history for these students

High school students attend 'Hamilton' at the Paramount in Seattle, 2018.
Courtesy of STG/Christopher Nelson
High school students attend 'Hamilton' at the Paramount in Seattle, 2018.

What if the first live theater you ever saw was "Hamilton"?

That was the experience of many of the 2,800 students from low-income high schools across the state who got to see the hottest show in town on a field trip.

People are willing to pay a lot to see the hit Broadway musical at the Paramount in Seattle – tickets start at about $400, including fees — but it’s hard to imagine anyone more eager to see the show than a teenager who already knows the entire soundtrack.

"I've been a fan of the musical since, like, freshman year, and this is really exciting to go see it in person," said Sophia Sulaiman, who goes to Lindbergh High School in Renton.

Like all of the students at the show, she’s been studying U.S. history – including a curriculum specially designed around the events portrayed in "Hamilton"  developed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.

Funding for the program and the tickets comes in large part from The Rockefeller Foundation and Google.

Sulaiman said the Federalist Papers and the Compromise of 1790 are much more likely to speak to students when they’re in a hip-hop rhyme scheme — and performed by people of color.

"You sort of inspire greater love for not only history, but for theater as well. And students that maybe wouldn't have otherwise gotten into it," Sulaiman said. "I know at my school we don't have a drama program, so I think it's really great that we get to have this experience and see this spectacle of live theater."

Students also got to take an active part in the spectacle. Before the show, two dozen of them got to perform their own original works on the Paramount stage, including songs, monologues, poetry and sketches.

Theresa Nguyen, Sheila Luong and Nellie Rivo, all seniors at Mariner High School in Everett, performed a rap they wrote about the Boston Massacre.

Nguyen said they put their act together in hopes of being selected to go see "Hamilton." But they didn’t know what they were signing up for.

"We all thought that if we ever got chosen, that we were only going to perform in front of the other chosen people, like, in the school," Nguyen said. "I didn't know how big the Paramount was. So then when we come in here, we see thousands of people, and people from different schools, and they all came up to us to congratulate us. It was shocking!"

Visiting the ornate, 90-year-old theater in downtown Seattle was new for a lot of students. While climbing the lobby stairs, one teen said to his friend, "So when you hear that a show is going to be at the Paramount, this is what they're talking about."

A girl squealed upon entering the restroom, "Oh my god, I love this bathroom! It's so pretty!"

Before the main attraction began, members of the "Hamilton" cast came out and answered student questions. During the show, whenever one of those cast members appeared in a new role, the students cheered like they would for a friend.

The cast members had encouraged the students to let the spirit move them – and the 2,800 teenagers obliged. They cheered feminist lyrics, boo’ed infidelity, and responded to heartbreak with a collective "awww!"

Three hours later, the students emerged from the theater all aglow.

"It really blew my mind," said Rivo. She said she didn’t find history that compelling before this show. "When I came in, I wasn’t expecting to be that impacted by that, but it was really great."

"I thought it was revolutionary," said Noah Collier, a junior at Kent-Meridian High School.

His dream is a career in music. Collier said "Hamilton" was inspirational and affirming. "I love myself. I love myself so much more than I did."

Collier said a lot of that had to do with the fact that the people on stage looked like him. "It felt amazing. It felt like I can do whatever I wanted. Which is what I’m abouts to go out there and do."

Year started with KUOW: 2008