Scarborough school seeks permission to perform Broadway hit Hamilton
'By first rehearsal, the students had memorized the entire score,' teacher says
At one Scarborough high school the most popular album on the phones of an entire class is, yes, a musical.
That musical? Hamilton — the massive Broadway hit that fuses hip-hop and American history.
The students at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts have been singing it in the hallways since they heard it, and now, they're hoping to get permission from the show's creators to mount an official version of the show.
They've already performed an unauthorized presentation of material from the show, parts of which were captured on video.
"The moment that we heard it we fell in love with it," student Savion Roach told CBC Radio's Metro Morning.
"It automatically put me in a trance," Roach said of the moment he heard a beat — as opposed to a big jazz number — backing a musical.
Ann Merriam, who teaches performing arts at Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts, turned the students on to the show after being one of the lucky ones to see it on Broadway.
"After seeing it the first time, I said to myself, 'I'm going to see it again, I'm going to tell everyone I know to see it, and I'm going to introduce it to my kids and school and have them perform it,'" she told CBC News in an interview.
Merriam said her school's performances of the show were "an unbelievably meaningful" experience for the kids.
Merriam said she hopes Hamilton's creators will see the videos "so that they know the impact their show has had."
Roach and fellow student Daniel McCormack said they would be starstruck by even a tweet from the show's creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda.
Merriam said her students were introduced to Hamilton through the show's soundtrack and were quick studies.
"With the first listening, there was nothing I needed to say because the music and story captured their passion," she said.
"By first rehearsal, the students had memorized the entire score. Never in my experience of directing and teaching young people have I seen this."
Diversity key to show's success, students say
Wexford students say while it may seem odd to mount the American musical here ("it's not even our story, it's America's," Roach admits) they share the creators' goals when it comes to diversity.
McCormack praised the show's casting as "colourblind," something he thinks his school is, too.
"Because Hamilton is so culturally diverse — when Broadway has been so white over the years — to do it at Wexford makes sense since we're such a diverse school," he said.
When Hamilton opened on Broadway last fall, the New York Times raved that the show is changing the language of musicals "by insisting that the forms of song most frequently heard on pop radio stations in recent years — rap, hip-hop, R&B ballads — have both the narrative force and the emotional interiority to propel a hefty musical about long-dead white men whose solemn faces glower from the green bills in our wallets."
Merriam agreed that Hamilton is a gamechanger.
"It shows us a new direction for musicals to connect with people of all ages and nationalities in today's world. It gives us universal values that the founders of all great nations were inspired to create so that there was a home for all of us regardless of race, colour or creed.
"Nothing has excited the theatre world like Hamilton."