Atlanta Public Schools students see ‘Hamilton’

Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen sings the song "My Shot" from "Hamilton" with students during the fund-raising leading up to this week’s outing. Photo: BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL
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Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Meria Carstarphen sings the song "My Shot" from "Hamilton" with students during the fund-raising leading up to this week’s outing. Photo: BRANDEN CAMP/SPECIAL

Credit: Maureen Downey

Credit: Maureen Downey

More than a thousand Atlanta Public Schools students had the coolest class trip of the century this week as they trooped into the Fox Theatre to watch that phenomenon called "Hamilton."

“This is absolutely amazing,” said Grady High School senior Morgan Watkins during intermission. The University of Georgia-bound 18-year-old was one of a sea of teenagers in the ornate Fox lobby, almost every one in a “Hamilton” T-shirt, all being herded to their seats by teacher chaperones.

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One of the most anticipated musicals to visit Atlanta in years begins a three-week run at the Fox Theatre.

One of the most anticipated musicals to visit Atlanta in years begins a three-week run at the Fox Theatre.
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One of the most anticipated musicals to visit Atlanta in years begins a three-week run at the Fox Theatre.

Tickets to the theatrical production ranged from $80 to $550, but Atlanta schools received support from such sponsors as Coca-Cola, Georgia Power, the Kendeda Fund, Georgia Natural Gas and United Consulting to help send kids to the show.

Atlanta Public Schools  superintendent Meria Carstarphen said the schools raised more than $300,000 to not only buy tickets, but to give the students dinner ahead of time -- and to provide the coveted T-shirts.

Students dined at the Fox’s Egyptian Ballroom, just a few steps from the lobby. They attended Tuesday and Wednesday performances.

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A preview of "Hamilton," which comes to Atlanta May 22-June 10, 2018.

Carstarphen has seen the show three times in New York, and felt that the musical’s arrival in Atlanta was a significant cultural event that her students shouldn’t miss.

“I love it,” she said in the swirling lobby, in the minutes before the show started Wednesday night. “I love it so much I made sure 1,400 students could see it.”

(The schools originally hoped to bring up to 1,700 students to the performances. This is graduation week for Atlanta schools, and many students came to the performance after graduation ceremonies.)

The musical retells the life of Alexander Hamilton in a combination of song and rap. It won 11 Tony awards in 2016 and became the hottest ticket on Broadway. Atlanta's production includes four cast members from Georgia.

Anticipation for the show’s arrival in Atlanta was huge. Schoolteachers saw it as more than just entertainment, however, but also a way to sharpen interest in politics, history and the Revolutionary War.

Atlanta schools concentrated on sending 10th grade students to the show, since most would be taking American history the following year.

“The thing I like about it,” said Lee Pope, who teaches American history and musical theater at Grady High School, “is that it will fill in the gaps.”

Pope attended Wednesday's performance as one of the chaperones, and said he had given his students a stern talking-to about etiquette before the show. Mostly he warned them not to sing along.

“People pay good money to see this show,” he told them, “and they didn’t pay to see you – yet.”

On the whole the students behaved well, though there was some chattering during quiet moments. They certainly amped up response from the audience at the end of songs, and exploded into teenage screams when Austin Scott stepped forward to announce “I’m Alexander Hamilton.”

“Students make the audience better,” said Carstarphen. “They’re so enthusiastic. They clap a lot.”

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