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#EduHam: The Experience

On Wednesday, February 15, 2017, one hundred lucky Bayonne High School academy juniors had the opportunity of a lifetime: a matinee performance of the iconic, history-made-musical, Hamilton: An American Musical. The cultural phenomenon, written and created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, directed by Thomas Kail, choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler, and designed by David Korins, gives the audience a taste of the the late 1700s and the creation of our nation. The audience is taken through the journey of Alexander Hamilton, Founding Father of the United States and creator of the the national bank, the promising and dreadful experiences he had, and the brutal death he faced in a fatal duel. Bayonne High School juniors were given the opportunity to see the performance for a the small price of $10 with the help of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. These non-profit programs helped fund the show for the students in order to give them the chance to witness the brilliance that is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s work. Students are able to observe what they see in their history books, acted out and beautifully portrayed in real life. Hamilton takes the story out of the textbook and brings the historical figures to a three-dimensional perspective where the audience can see the most powerful characters in American history in their most vulnerable state. It all began on the morning of Thursday, January 5, 2017 when we ​​were called to the auditorium for an assembly. Shortly after, we were soon informed that this assembly was not for new policies, but an announcement for a once in a lifetime opportunity the students would never expect. Flashing before our eyes was Rory O’Malley in his King George III costume ready to discuss what was coming our way. When the words “you guys are coming to see Hamilton” were uttered, the atmosphere of the auditorium— once filled with dread and fatigue— was pervaded with enthusiasm and excitement. Jumping out of my seat with awe and tears of joy falling from my eyes, it took me a bit of time to comprehend what had happened. An opportunity I can only dream of experiencing was now unfolding before me and 99 other students. On February 15, 2017, the day that once seemed intangible has arrived. Ornately embellished with Hamilton silhouettes and brightly lit in the heart of Times Square, New York, the Richard Rogers Theater towered above the hundreds of enthusiastic students anxiously and impatiently waiting to enter the decorated doors. We acknowledge the familiar silhouettes from the hundreds of ham4ham videos we watch on YouTube and the ambiance of Times Square adds the liveliness of the myriads of students. Adrenaline fills our bloodstreams as they finally open the doors to the prestigious theater and the students pile into the dimly lit lobby. The juniors began their day with performances from the students of the schools invited by the eduham program. As we entered, the wooden, intricately designed set was situated on the platform and the students anxiously and impatiently stood on the prestigious Richard Rodgers stage waiting to perform their original pieces and poems. We took our seats in the orchestra while spectating and taking in the enthusiastic and loud environment. Following the spontaneous chatter among all the students, I look onto the stage to find it vacant, with the exception of an individual wearing a beanie, with his back to the audience, taking a photo. This individual was not the common student that was performing, I soon came to the realization that this was, indeed, Nik Walker and initiated my infamous fangirl persona that I attempted to conceal for the next two hours. Soon vacating the stage, the lights begin to go dim in the house and the experience begins. On the dimly lit stage, stood the enthusiastic, humorous, and the one and only Nik Walker exclaims “Are you ready…………. for Eduham!” through the microphone and spontaneously runs in circles onstage. Supportive of all students performers, he hosts the Eduham experience and begins to announce the performers and congratulate them on their success. Soon after, Nik arrives back on the stage, bringing Jordan Fisher, Bryan Terrell Clark, Sasha Hollinger, and J Quinton Johnson to respond to the questions the schools sent in from the students during the Q&A session. A few questions were answered until Nik uttered something oddly familiar. He introduced the question by advising Sasha that the question was for her to respond to and then stated “Blankenbuehler’s choreography is comprised of various influences of dance, including hip-hop, jazz, and modern. What was the biggest challenge you faced when learning choreography and what was your favorite number to learn?” while I internally came to the realization that this was the question I sent in. Sasha eloquently responded and provided me with useful dance advice that is applicable for performers of all types of art. She explained how the story is the most crucial aspect of any of Blankenbuehler’s choreography, not the height of the extensions or how graceful the dancer is, and her advice was evident throughout the show as their performance was captivating, not only with their impeccable technique, but with their ability to communicate their story through the intensity in their bodies. With previous knowledge of the choreography from the musical from YouTube tutorial videos, I was able to fully comprehend what Sasha was explaining and am now able to apply this to myself during performances.

​ The matinee performance was brilliant, captivating, and beautifully executed. New cast members ingeniously embodied their characters, and they each put their own flare and style different from the original cast. It exceeded my expectations by miles. Listening to the album and watching the show live gave different vibes. Live performances allow the performers to connect with the audience and give a more enthusiastic aura in the house. The characters provide a feeling that only the audience can receive, with their emotional and beautiful renditions of the music created by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Each performer gave their respective character a different life and vibrance distinct from the original cast. Everything about the show enchanted my attention from the lighting, to the set, to the melodies, to the harmonies, to the costuming, to the choreography: every small detail was brilliant and well thought out. In Alexander Hamilton’s outstanding ballad, Hurricane, the lighting created a small hurricane surrounding him with Hamilton in its eye. Throughout the show, the lights reflected the shadow of the performer to mimic the iconic logo. Small detail like this enhance the performance and the experience for the audience. Hamilton allows the audience to understand history in a perspective different from that presented by a textbook and sheds light on the non-political lives of the characters. Aaron Burr’s character, portrayed by Brandon Victor Dixon, for example, is seen in his most vulnerable state in the show—something we do not see in our history textbooks. Most textbooks merely depict Burr as the villain who murdered a founding father. What they do not illustrate is Burr’s personal life. The musical displays Aaron Burr as an orphan, a widower, and a loving father of his daughter, Theodosia. Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ability to depict these characters in their most impotent states, makes this performance of history remarkable. The lyrics Miranda put into the songs shed a vulnerability that could never be comprehended through text, but can instead be portrayed through music. Burr’s ballad Wait For It articulates his whole childhood and his relationship with his parents with eloquence that a textbook could not possibly contain. I may have shed a few tears during Dixon’s rendition of the song, but to be honest, the performance brought me to tears about eight times in the entirety of the show, so I’m not surprised. All of the actors had their star moments in the show and proved their star quality. Jordan Fisher, who played the roles of John Laurens and Philip Hamilton, had this undeniable spark about him that he put into his characters, especially Philip Hamilton in the song Take A Break. During his role as Laurens, however, his ability to engage my attention and display such intense emotion during his death scene, made both me and him shed a few tears. Not only is Jordan Fisher an amazing actor, but the characters of Javan McFerrin, Seth Stewart, Taran Killam, J Quinton Johnson, and Terrell Brandon Clark also left me helpless with their prominent voices that filled me with such jubilation and amazement. One of my favorite memories was during One Last Time when the richness in Clark’s voice filled the theater. The performance brought me to tears: the characters and their depictions by the cast, the beautiful melodies, the lighting, the staging, everything was magnificent. The notes the performers hit clearly showed their capability to perform, but also to connect with their characters; it is clear that they realize that, unlike many of their previous roles, their characters are not fictional, and they take responsibility in wholeheartedly embodying each of their characters. Their ability to express their vulnerability through the music and to execute distinct characters in different acts blew us all away. The roles of Hercules Mulligan/James Madison and Maquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson, played by J. Quinton Johnson and Seth Stewart, respectively, exceeded my expectations for the actors, with their ability to transition between two immensely different characters in such as short period of time. Without any doubt, the day of February 15, 2017—the day I went to see Hamilton: An American Musical— was one of the best days of my life. Going to New York City, watching one of the best musicals on Broadway, and having the opportunity to do this all with some of my favorite people. The performance was exquisite, the performances carried out by the students were magnificent, and the question and answer session was enlightening. Everything about that day was amazing. The show was brilliant, and the cast was phenomenal. An enormous amount of gratitude to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Rockefeller Foundations for making this possible to not only the Bayonne High School students, but also to thousands of students nationwide.

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