On the stage of the Boston Opera House, burly crew members moved rope and slabs of wood, readying the set pieces for a matinee showing of “Hamilton.”
Jahmo Chavez, 16, stood in the front row, watching as if they were carrying priceless paintings.
“It’s a known fact that your pupils dilate 45 percent when you look at something you love,” he marveled. “Right now, I’m Hamilton.”
Chavez, a junior from Greater Lawrence Technical High School, was one of 2,500 public high school students from across the state who came to Boston Thursday to see a special performance of the hit musical about Alexander Hamilton and the Founding Fathers.
While tickets for the Broadway blockbuster typically cost hundreds of dollars, the students paid only $10 through a partnership between the show’s producers, the Lynch Foundation, Broadway in Boston and the John Gore Organization.
The Hamilton Education Program, known as “EduHam,” seeks to bring the story of an orphaned immigrant who ascended from virtually nothing to a vaunted place in American history to more students from low-income backgrounds.
Students came from as far as Berkshire County for a daylong event that began with individual performances from high school students, was followed by a question-and-answer session with some of the actors, then culminated with the three-hour show.
The energy was palpable from the start, with students screaming from their seats to cheer on the student performers as they sang original songs, gave spoken-word performances, or rapped about the Revolutionary War, slavery, and the Founding Fathers (and their wives). The students had been studying about Hamilton and the Founding Fathers for weeks but were also clearly inspired by the musical’s raps and hip-hop grooves.
Carlito Velasquez, a student at Boston Green Academy in Brighton, rapped as a defiant George Washington — “The British tried to give me stitches. I said ‘No man, stick it up your britches.’ ”
Aiyanna Bellefeuille, 15, a 10th-grader from Berkshire Arts and Technology Charter Public School in Adams, was a sassy Abigail Adams, who scolded the men of her era for failing to honor her famous plea for equality: “Remember the ladies.”
Bellefeuille said she chose to portray Adams because of her progressive views, which were radical for their time.
“She was, in the correct use of the word, queer,” Bellefeuille said. “She was strange according to society’s norms.”
Chavez, the Lawrence student, brought people in the audience to their feet with a silky rap about the Boston Tea Party, a performance that impressed Nicholas Christopher, the actor who plays Hamilton’s nemesis, Aaron Burr.
Christopher, 28, a Winchester native who attended the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, has been with the show since it was on Broadway. He emceed the portion with the student performances and noticed how quiet and seemingly nervous Chavez was backstage as he waited for his name to be called.
‘It’s a known fact that your pupils dilate 45 percent when you look at something you love. Right now, I’m Hamilton.’
“When he got on that stage, he just took over that crowd,” Christopher said. “I was really inspired by him.”
High school students from New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, and other cities who have gotten to see the show have responded differently to the messages of Hamilton, program organizers said. New York students cheer loudly when the Marquis de Lafayette, America’s famous French ally, proclaims “Immigrants: We get the job done.” In Chicago, students have been especially excited by the hip-hop verses.
Before Thursday’s show, Christopher predicted the students in Boston would be receptive to the duel scenes (there are three in the show, including the fateful one between Hamilton and Burr).
“We love a good challenge and love a good fight,” said Christopher. “I think Bostonians will love the fighting in the show.”
As he has seen elsewhere, he expected the teenagers to be more honest than the more polite, middle-aged crowd that usually turns out for musical theater.
“If they find something funny, they laugh. If they don’t, it’s silent,” Christopher said of teens. “There is no forgiveness.”
For the most part, the audience in Boston was wild with enthusiasm, shrieking with delight when the actor playing Hamilton appeared on stage for the first time, yelling “Ohhhh” when he cheated on his wife, and gasping loudly when his son and then Hamilton himself were killed in duels.
Historical musicals aren’t for everyone, of course, and some were restless.
“It’s too long,” one young student complained at intermission. She had wanted to go to sleep at points, she told a friend, but was afraid of getting caught by the teacher.
But students like Jasmine Santiago, a 14-year-old freshman from the Leominster Center for Excellence, were left in awe.
“It was amazing. Oh God,” she said at the end of the show, tears in her eyes. “I never knew how powerful Hamilton’s story was. I wanted it to be longer. If it was too long, it would not be long enough.”Maria Cramer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.