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Broadway hit will teach these Pasco teens a lesson

February 17, 2018

In this Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2018 photo, Pasco High School students Cynthia Cisneros, left, and Belen Trinidad, center, listen as Maria Duvon explains what she highlighted in her Hamilton work packet inside the school's library in Pasco, Wash. Pasco High School was selected by the Gilder Lehrman Institute to participate in their Hamilton Education Program. A hundred juniors were nominated by their teachers and must complete the lesson plan and turn in a final project in order to see Hamilton in Seattle. (Noelle Haro-Gomez/The Herald via AP)/The Tri-City Herald via AP)

KENNEWICK, Wash. (AP) — Geo Rivera hadn’t heard of Hamilton.

The 16-year-old Pasco High School junior is into hip-hop. Broadway isn’t exactly his thing.

But Hamilton is something different. The hit musical tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton through rap and R&B.

“When (my teacher) told me about it, she was excited. But I was like, ‘That’s going to be lame,’ ” Geo said. “But then she showed me a video and it was actually really good. It earns respect.”

Geo can’t wait to see the show in person. He’s one of 100 Pasco High students who’ll take in a special matinee next month.

The teens are excited for the trip to Seattle, for the adventure.

And for something else. At the school, several pointed to Hamilton’s diversity, which mirrors the diversity at Pasco High.

More than three-quarters of the school’s students are Latino. And in Hamilton, the founding fathers and mothers are portrayed largely by Latino and black performers.

“The casting is so cool,” Geo said. “It attracts kids that wouldn’t normally be attracted to this stuff.”

Magdalena Benavides, 17, noted that the show was written by a Latino — Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“It’s very good to see someone (with a similar background) achieve such great things,” she said.

The teens are seeing the famous show through the Hamilton Education Program, which started in 2015 as an initiative of the musical’s creators, The Rockefeller Foundation, the NYC Department of Education and the Gilder Lehrman Institute.

It’s not a free ride. The kids have to study Hamilton’s era and prepare a performance — such as a rap, dance, scene or song — inspired by what they’ve learned.

The Pasco teens will head across the mountains March 8, getting to Seattle in time for activities such as a question-and-answer session with the traveling cast.

Some of the teens may be picked to perform their piece on stage, in front of their fellow students and Hamilton actors.

It is, without hyperbole, the opportunity of a lifetime.

Tickets to Hamilton are expensive and tough to get, and it’s sure to be a transformational experience.

“It’s going to blow their minds,” said Heather Johnson, the drama teacher at Pasco High.

Most of the students haven’t seen much, if any, live theater — especially not something like Hamilton, she said.

“It’s going to be out of this world for them. They’re going to be engaged 100 percent, the entire time. They’re going to walk away inspired,” Johnson said.

She sent off an application for the program last year. Pasco High is believed to be the only local school taking part.

Hamilton is at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle as part of a national tour. The show debuted on Broadway in 2015, shattering box office records, racking up awards and earning a place in the cultural zeitgeist.

It sounds like it shouldn’t work. It’s a hip hop musical about the country’s first treasury secretary.

But it does work — a stunning artistic achievement that engages, enlightens and inspires.

And it resonates with young people who might otherwise have no interest in a musical about history.

With Hamilton, it’s “the story of back then, but they are telling it now, in a way that’s (relevant) today. It’s amazing,” said Vanessa Sanchez, 17, one of the Pasco High students seeing the show.

History can be boring, but “now it’s something fun and upbeat and you can listen to it and know what’s going on,” Magdalena added.

Along with Johnson, Pasco High teachers Megan Juzeler, Ron Newbury, Kelsey Gilman and Marcie White are helping with the program.

Administrators and other staff also have been vital to making it happen, Johnson said. And she’s grateful to Ag Association Management, which is kicking in $1,000 to cover lunch during the trip.

The students taking part are all juniors and were nominated based on outstanding behavior.

They had early release on a recent Wednesday, but they stuck around to bone up on Hamilton history and work on their performance pieces.

Geo already has part of his rap done. Magdalena planned to do a scene, something centered on the U.S. breaking from England.

Unlike Geo, who’d never heard of Hamilton before his teacher clued him in, Magdalena found the show on her own. She loves it.

The music and story are inspiring, thrilling, she said. She can’t wait to see it live, with the performances sweeping her up and transporting her.

“It’s amazing seeing them there. They’re acting right in front of you,” Magdalena said. “I’m excited.”


Information from: Tri-City Herald, http://www.tri-cityherald.com

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