By Ellen Fagg Weist and Catherine Reese Newton - Salt Lake Tribune
The people behind the hit musical are ready to drop some knowledge on the state’s students.
The phenomenal success of “Hamilton: The Musical” has been life-changing for the Miranda family, said Luis A. Miranda Jr. And the educational programs accompanying his son Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s touring musical are designed to have a similar impact on Utah students’ lives when the show plays Salt Lake City next spring.
Miranda joked and charmed a crowd of influential donors, legislators and arts leaders in the lobby of the Eccles Theater on Thursday morning, as he lauded Utah’s innovative, $850,000 public-private partnership funding educational programs that will accompany the musical’s April 11-May 6 Salt Lake City run.
“First, we never thought a Puerto Rican family would be in charge of Hamilton’s legacy,” said Miranda, who was accompanied by his wife (and Lin-Manuel’s mother), Luz Towns-Miranda. “So it shows how wonderful our country is that a Puerto Rican family can be in charge of Hamilton’s legacy.”
Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, the smooth emcee of the announcement, introduced Miranda as “the genius behind the genius.” Miranda showcased the Hamilton Education Program — EduHam for short — launched with the Broadway show and now extended to tour cities.
In Utah, 2,300 teachers and students from Title 1 schools will pay $10 – “a Hamilton” — to attend a matinee performance of the musical, after a rigorous study of the country‘s founding documents. Schools are invited to apply for the program (see box), which draws upon rigorous history curriculum aimed at teaching students how to analyze and unlock meaning from complicated texts, said Tim Bailey, a former Utah schoolteacher who directs eduction for the nonprofit Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
The program requires each student to create a performance piece — a poem, rap, dance, song or theater scene — based on a “big moment,” some point of connection with their historical antecedents. Each school selects a winning number, and about a dozen of those students are invited to perform their works on the Eccles stage before a May 4 matinee.
Miranda called the program a perfect marriage of knowledge and artistic performance, in the way it requires the creation of something that’s more than a “refried version of ‘Hamilton: The Musical.’”
Thursday’s announcement featured performances by high-school students Alex Callorina, of Fairfield, Calif., who wittily dropped some knowledge about the Bill of Rights, and Winter Smith, of Chicago, who rose up to rap about the Boston Tea Party.
Winter, who has been writing raps since she was 4, said it was amazing to have the chance to perform in front of 1,000 of her peers in Chicago. “You can create anything from history,” she said, adding that her study of the country‘s founding documents was creatively exciting. But the chance to see “Hamilton” exceeded her expectations, as it was “20 times better then a regular musical.”
Cox called it “a tragedy of epic proportions” that some in the crowd hadn't had a chance to see the musical yet. When his wife and son, avid fans of the Broadway recording, saw the show in June, she walked out with tears in her eyes, saying the show had changed her life.
That profound impact is what funders hope to make possible for Utah students. Additional programs sponsored by the Utah Department of Heritage & Arts will include an opportunity for 104 students to attend the musical with their legislator, a “Who Tells Your Story” exhibit at the Utah State Capitol and book kit events at public libraries.
Cox praised the bipartisan support of the program, referring to a successful resolution by Rep. Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) honoring the “Hamilton” creator. And he joked about the untunefulness of the “Hamilton” carpool karaoke featuring three Republicans and two Democrats, including House Speaker Greg Hughes, R-Draper, Salt Lake County mayor Ben McAdams and Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City. The YouTube video had even come to the attention of Lin-Manuel, the senior Miranda said.
“I do not recommend Googling that,” as it was something you couldn't unsee, Cox joked, nodding in the direction of the carpool singers sitting in the Eccles lobby.
Will this musically inspired interest in American history endure? Luis Miranda said he’s impressed with the enthusiasm he’s seen so far. “I get tweets all the time from kids” who remind him of important dates in American history: “Hey! You haven’t tweeted about the anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown!”
Climbing every mountain
This isn’t Luis Miranda’s first trip to Salt Lake City. He said he visited at least five times in the 1980s while working to get more minority students into engineering. On one occasion, he wanted to visit the LDS Temple. “In New York, if you sort of look like you know where you’re going, nobody stops you,” he explained. “Walking into the temple — ah, they did. Several times.”
But Thursday night, he walked into the Tabernacle as a guest of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and sat in on a rehearsal, along with Utah Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox. “I’m very humbled that I’m able to do this,” Miranda said Thursday morning. “’Climb Every Mountain’ is my favorite song, and they added it so I could sing that song with the group.”