Northern Utah students join others at special 'Hamilton' show in Salt Lake City

Monday , May 07, 2018 - 5:15 AM

SALT LAKE CITY — Most teenagers are not going to read a 732-page biography of the United States’ first treasury secretary on top of doing their required school assignments. However, if the subject is Alexander Hamilton, things could change. 

Ciler Pierson, 18, said he didn’t know much about Hamilton, so he decided to read his biography to create a rap on the life of Thomas Jefferson as part of his Hamilton Education Program project. In the process of creating the rap, he also discovered the soundtrack of the award-winning musical.

“I listen to the (‘Hamilton’) soundtrack so often and it’s just phenomenal to actually hear it from the actors because you can actually feel the emotion … when you are listening to it live,” Pierson said. “I don’t hit as much emotional points as often anymore, but just sitting here, listening to them singing live really hit me.”

Pierson, a senior at Two Rivers High School, is one of more than 2,100 high school students from across the state who dressed up Friday and went to Salt Lake City for a special occasion: a matinee show of the musical “Hamilton: An American Musical” at the Eccles Theater. It was his first time going to the theater. 

Students dropped their phones and watched the two-hour-and-45-minute musical about Alexander Hamilton, the nation’s first U.S. Secretary of Treasury, which uses a mix of hip-hop, R&B, blues, jazz and rap to tell the story.

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The special show was part of the Hamilton Education Program, a program created by Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and The Rockefeller Foundation. The Gilder Lehrman Institute provides participating schools with resources to introduce students to the history of Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers. 

In order to qualify for tickets, schools have to implement student projects for all participating students. The schools have to submit copies of the student projects to the Institute. A bipartisan appropriations bill sponsored by House Speaker Greg Hughes and Sen. Jim Debakis, D-Salt Lake City, helped subsidized the tickets.

RELATED: ‘Look around' and other life lessons of 'Hamilton'

Friday was also DaVinci Academy student Gavin Lepore’s first time watching a play.

“The (teachers) were just like ‘Hey, we have this opportunity to see ‘Hamilton,’ do you want to go?’ and I was like ‘I don’t even know what’s ‘Hamilton,’” Lepore, 17, said. “Then we went into the history about it. We had like a whole two or three weeks learning about Hamilton in all my classes.”

Fifteen students from Ben Lomond High School took a bus from Ogden to watch the musical. They had to go to school at 7 a.m. for five classes, complete a program and write a performance piece in order to get tickets to the show. 

G. Gabriel White, the school’s drama teacher, said students were excited about this unique opportunity.

“There’s a lot of them who wouldn’t be able to watch this show otherwise,” White said. “It’s really important for them to get to watch excellent musical theatre, and that’s what this is.”

Before the show, some students performed in front of the audience as part of the education program. Some of the performances included raps about Benjamin Franklin, Abigail Adams and the American Revolution, as well as poems about the Boston Massacre and Phillis Wheatley.

The cast of the musical also showed up before the show to answer some questions from students and provide some life advice. 

Desmond Sean Ellington, a standby actor who plays George Washington, reminded students of the importance of staying true to themselves. 

“No matter what it is that you want to do, if you see it, it’s already a reality,” Ellington said. “The universe has to catch up with you. What you want to be you can be.”

Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox talked to the students about the musical and about the message of Alexander Hamilton’s life story.

“The message is so important,” Cox said. “I want you to listen to the message of Alexander Hamilton, a guy who came from nothing and he got an education, and education is so important to this.”

He also encouraged students to find their voices in whatever they want to do.

“Here’s what I’m asking you to do,” Cox said. “Find your voice, and then help other people find their voices because that’s what really matters.”

Contact education reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán at smartinezbeltran@standard.net or 801-625-4274. Follow him on Twitter @SergioMarBel and like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/STANDARDEXSergio.

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