“Hamilton,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s cultural and financial juggernaut of a musical, is coming to Seattle. But it has a deeply personal meaning for some people. Two teen fans and one cast member talk about how “Hamilton” changed their lives.

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Buckle up, folks. “Hamilton” is about to open in Seattle on Tuesday, and the anticipation feels like a real-life Santa Claus is coming to town.

THEATER PREVIEW

‘Hamilton: An American Musical’

Feb. 6-March 18 at The Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle. Late-release seats may become available at short notice (check ticketmaster.com or 800-982-2787).

Forty $10 tickets are available by lottery for each performance; register for lottery two days prior to each performance at hamiltonmusical.com/lottery or via the “Hamilton” app at hamiltonmusical.com/app. (Seattle will not be listed as one of the cities for the lottery until 11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 4, when the lottery opens here.)

Just invoking the name can provoke a 10-minute conversation with strangers about what “Hamilton” means to them.

After talking with dozens of people (actors, students, teachers, co-workers, neighbors, people at bus stops, even my mother-in-law), a distilled version of the conversation usually sounds like this: “How do I get tickets? I can’t afford tickets. But I have to see it. I can’t stop listening to the music. It’s hip-hop, it’s pop, it’s sophisticated musical-theater songwriting. It’s so raw and heartfelt, but so polished! It brings history alive in a way you’d never expect — U.S. revolutionaries as passionate, flawed people instead of dusty cutouts from a history textbook. And the multiethnic casting — a middle-school student of whatever color can identify with a black George Washington! It’s just — I can’t put it into words. I’m the biggest ‘Hamilton’ geek in the world.”

Sorry, folks. You can’t all be the biggest “Hamilton” geek in the world. But Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical has clearly hit a collective cultural nerve.

In the unlikely case that you don’t know what “Hamilton” is, a quick primer: After his hit Broadway show “In the Heights” (about life in a Dominican-dominated New York neighborhood), Miranda wrote an intense musical about the wild life of Founding Father and first U.S. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

“Hamilton” is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s intense musical about the wild life of Founding Father, and first U.S. Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. (Joan Marcus)
“Hamilton” is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s intense musical about the wild life of Founding Father, and first U.S. Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton. (Joan Marcus)

Hamilton was born out of wedlock in the Caribbean, orphaned, went to New York, became a revolutionary and right-hand man to George Washington during the war, was in the mix of intense debates about the new U.S. Constitution, had a scandalous personal life (including rumors of an affair with his wife’s older sister) and was eventually killed in a duel.

“Hamilton” frames Hamilton as passionate, conflicted, ambitious and book-smart-meets-street-smart — a hip-hop-inflected picaresque that has become staggeringly popular.

It’s a true juggernaut. “Hamilton” has won the big awards (11 Tony Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Grammy Award), broken Broadway sales records, is a hot ticket on the secondary market (as of this writing, some resale tickets on Ticketmaster’s website are going for well over $1,000 — though the tour is gamely offering $10 digital-lottery tickets). It even aroused the Twitter ire of President Donald Trump, who dismissed the musical as “highly overrated” and called the actors “rude” for making a direct-stage appeal to Vice President Mike Pence, who had attended a performance the previous night. (“We hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values,” one actor had said during the curtain call, “and work on behalf of all of us.”)

Nevertheless, it’s impossible to deny the intimate, heartfelt “Hamilton” effect — the way some people say the musical has deeply transformed their lives.

Here are three stories — two from local teenagers, one from a cast member in this national touring production that will begin in Seattle — about how “Hamilton” shook their worlds.

Katera Howard: 17, president of Rainier Beach High School drama club

Katera Howard, 17, is hoping for a ticket miracle that will allow her to see the show in Seattle. A “Hamilton” superfan, she even has “Rise Up,” a lyric from the musical, tattooed on her shoulder.  (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)
Katera Howard, 17, is hoping for a ticket miracle that will allow her to see the show in Seattle. A “Hamilton” superfan, she even has “Rise Up,” a lyric from the musical, tattooed on her shoulder. (Dean Rutz/The Seattle Times)

Unless a miracle falls in her lap, Rainier Beach High School student Katera Howard won’t get to see this tour of “Hamilton.”

“Because I’m a senior,” she moaned. Rainier Beach applied for, and got, 90 $10 student tickets to the show but they’re restricted to juniors. (Rainier Beach theater teacher Rachel Street said the national tour had an “11th-grade cutoff, because 11th grade is about U.S. history.”)

That’s a pity, because Howard might be one of the show’s most enthusiastic ambassadors. “Hamilton” lit a fire for her. She collects books and articles about early U.S. history and even got a tattoo on her shoulder (done by her sister, a tattoo artist) with a “Hamilton” lyric: “Rise up.”

“I look at it every day,” Howard said. “If I’m in a funk about life or school or something, I can just look at it and I feel better.”

What does “rise up” mean to her?

“Being a black teen in this society, I want to rise up against prejudice, against injustice, against hate — there’s so much stuff that me and people who look like me can rise up against,” she said. “Hamilton was not like: ‘I’m just going to sit around and let it be; we need to get out there and make the change!’”

And Howard is working to make change. She’s a food-justice activist, a member of her school’s Black Student Union, a captain and co-founder of the No Preservatives dance team and president of the drama club at Rainier Beach — a school, she said, that is “super sports-inclined … if you’re not into sports, you kind of get disregarded.”

But she’s been proselytizing about “Hamilton” to family and friends, and helped organize a performance of “Alexander Hamilton” — the show’s opening number — for a school assembly. Even the athletes, she said, were asking: “What’s that from? A musical? That musical is super dope!”

“Hamilton,” she says to anyone who will listen, “is the best thing ever. It will change your life.”

She said that before “Hamilton” came along, early U.S. history lessons just seemed like “these white guys who changed America.”

But seeing online clips from the show, with actors of color playing traditionally white roles, “changes not just musical theater but history … the world is changing. With ‘Hamilton,’ I feel that if I want something, no matter who is set up for that position, I can get it.”

Miranda’s musical also inspired her to write her own: “Fun,” a satire about theater kids at a sports-centric school who convince the school board to give them a cut of the sports budget.

Howard still hopes to see “Hamilton” at the Paramount — she’s begging teachers to let her chaperone the 11th-grade students, and has tried to save up money to buy a ticket. “But I like to help my parents,” she said. “Sometimes money is tight, and you have to put your family before everything.”

Gaebriel Min: 18, chair of outreach and equity at TeenTix, Highline College student

Gaebriel Min, 18 and a Highline College student, remembers thinking, as she listened to the “Hamilton” soundtrack: “I didn’t know a musical could <em>sound </em>like this.” (Gabriella Gonzalez-Yoxtheimer)
Gaebriel Min, 18 and a Highline College student, remembers thinking, as she listened to the “Hamilton” soundtrack: “I didn’t know a musical could sound like this.” (Gabriella Gonzalez-Yoxtheimer)

The second time Gaebriel Min listened to the “Hamilton” album, on a southbound Link light rail train, she cried.

She’d half-listened to it earlier that day, on the Link from South Seattle to Capitol Hill to visit a friend. “I was working on homework, earbuds in, avoiding eye contact, things like that,” she said. It was a normal ride, but the unusual combination of hip-hop and swelling, musical-theater strings caught Min off guard. She remembers thinking: “I didn’t know a musical could sound like this.”

On her way back home, she listened to it again — absorbing the lyrics for the first time — and was overwhelmed. “I realized that this is a true story,” she said. “It definitely hit something deep down. I can’t put it into words.”

Min was a late “Hamilton” adopter. Her theater friends had been talking about the show, but she didn’t believe the hype — a musical about white people in wigs from her history textbooks?

“I thought: ‘This is the boringest-sounding show ever,’” she said.

But a close friend kept insisting, saying: “You have to listen to this. It’s life-changing.”

After that second listen, Min became an evangelist. And as the outreach and equity chair at TeenTix — a Seattle nonprofit that provides affordable access to arts and culture events for teens — she’s heard almost nothing but wild enthusiasm about the show.

“Excited? That’s an understatement,” she said. “It still comes up in every TeenTix meeting: We’re excited it’s coming here, or we’re so amazed by Lin-Manuel’s writing, or how different this thing is.”

Min has tickets to the show. With Min’s encouragement, her mom listened to the album and also became a convert — and bought Min tickets for her birthday.

Conroe Brooks: 41, cast member of “Hamilton,” Los Angeles

Actor Conroe Brooks, part of the touring production of “Hamilton” that will play at the Paramount Theatre, says the musical is empowering. (TrueMoxieImage.com)
Actor Conroe Brooks, part of the touring production of “Hamilton” that will play at the Paramount Theatre, says the musical is empowering. (TrueMoxieImage.com)

Last December, Conroe Brooks’ manager broke the good news by calling to say: “You’d better sell your car. You’re going on tour.”

He’d finally been cast in “Hamilton.”

“I literally fell to my knees and yelled,” Brooks said. “Thanks to God, thanks to my mom, hollering, all kinds of stuff.” The actor had four days to settle his affairs in Los Angeles — sell the car, sell his stuff, ditch his apartment — and get to New York to start rehearsals.

The moment was deeply cathartic: Brooks had had a thorny, painful, yearslong road into this touring production.

His saga began in the fall of 2015, when a friend texted about an open call for “Hamilton” video auditions. Brooks thanked his friend, joking that he could never afford a ticket. “I really wanted to see this,” Brooks remembers texting, “so I guess I’ll just have to be in it.”

He didn’t believe that would actually happen.

After a few months, he submitted a homemade video anyway — singing “I’ll Cover You” from “Rent” and rapping “Can’t Hold Us” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis — and expected to hear nothing.

He didn’t, until three months later, when the “Hamilton” team asked him to submit another video. That started a grueling process of occasional, torturously tantalizing callbacks, more video submissions, in-person auditions in L.A. and New York and months going by without hearing anything.

In the interim, Brooks was having a rough time. His mother was diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumor, which ultimately killed her. He got dropped as a soul/R&B singer from a wedding band. His acting work was precarious. Brooks paid the rent with piecework video editing and as a food-delivery driver for Postmates.

He was going broke — and spiraling into depression. “It was a really dark, hopeless time,” Brooks said. “I was just thinking: ‘Good things are never going to happen for me. I didn’t hear back from “Hamilton.” My mom’s gone. And even if I get the job, she’s never gonna see it.’ I was in a really bad place.”

After nearly two agonizing years, Brooks finally got the good news — and he’s headed to Seattle as a member of the ensemble and a lead understudy for the roles of George Washington and King George III.

Getting the part and working on his understudy roles as a president and a king, he said, quickly gave him more confidence — from day-to-day interactions to how he walks around town. Sometimes he surprises himself by looking around the New York subway and thinking: “Wow, I am a powerful dude on this train.” He hadn’t felt that way in years.

“It’s weird to have African Americans in these roles of guys who had African American slaves,” he said. “But for me, it’s empowering — all these different ethnic people playing these Founding Fathers is genius. In a sneaky way, it changes our thinking about who can be what in this world.”

By the time this article is published, Brooks should be walking the streets of Seattle, Min should be eagerly looking forward to her night at The Paramount, and Howard might still be hoping for her ticket miracle.

Think of them the next time you see a billboard — or article, ad or ticket alert — about “Hamilton.”

Yes, “Hamilton” is exciting. But for some people, the show is bigger than the show itself.

UPDATE: After this story was published online on Feb. 1, several people stepped forward to offer Katera Howard tickets to the show, including a KeyBank representative, former Seattle City Councilmember Tim Burgess and some generous readers. It looks like Howard is going to “Hamilton” after all.