CENTRAL FALLS - Deloris Grant described a recent performance of “Hamilton” at the Providence Performing Arts Center as “probably the best play I’ve ever seen.” Granted, she said, she has to be careful saying that in front of her sister.
Grant’s younger sister, Viola Davis, is a two-time Tony Award-winning actress, whose on stage credits include performances in “Seven Guitars,” “King Hedley II,” and “Fences,” the latter two which yielded her Tony Awards for best featured actress in a play and best actress in a play.
But it was the Providence performance of the award-winning smash-hit play “Hamilton” that led to Grant showering the musical with plaudits and accolades.
Grant, an English and drama teacher at Central Falls High School, accompanied a group of students and alumni from the high school’s Thespian Society to Providence on Wednesday night to view “Hamilton,” which details the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton.
While Grant was dazzled by what she saw on stage that night, it was the reaction of the students that she’ll perhaps remember most fondly.
“I asked them afterwards what did they like the best, one student said to me I love the music, I love everything about the music.’ I had one who memorized all the names of the actors, the roles they were playing, they understood every aspect. I was shocked by that. I think they knew more than me,” Grant said.
“They were so thrilled to see themselves reflected on that stage. I saw myself on the stage,” she later said of the musical’s diverse cast. “I was amazed by the people on that stage and I was glad my students got to see that as well. They saw themselves in an American narrative.”
“Hamilton” is notable for casting a diverse group of actors and actresses of all races to portray the characters from history. For Grant, and the Central Falls students who attended the play, it was vitally important to see themselves and their lives reflected on stage for all the world to see.
“The play begins in the Caribbean … That area of the world, you think about the various colors of all the people and on stage that’s what they saw,” she said. “Hamilton began in the Caribbean, a story of loss. They understand all these hardships, how he was able to overcome it. It’s so important for young people in America to see themselves in the narrative. They had no problem on that stage casting a black man into a white man’s role, I thought that was interesting too. I loved how color had no barrier, there was no barrier with color.”
The ability for four students and an educator from Central Falls to see the PPAC performance, with tickets ranging in price from $83 to $398, was made possible thanks to the efforts of Central Falls High Class of 2009 graduate and Central Falls Alumni Association member Theresa Agonia. Agonia herself saw “Hamilton” in Providence last month and had an idea of sponsoring students from the Thespian Society to attend the show for free.
In just over 24 hours, Agonia had raised over $1,000 to purchase tickets.
“The Central Falls Alumni Association board members are always looking for opportunities to support Central Falls High School students,” Agonia said on Friday. “When I attended the ‘Hamilton’ show at PPAC, I was truly blown away by the actors, storyline, production, and just everything. As a PPAC board member, I know how hard the PPAC team has worked over the last year and a half and was thrilled to see the final outcome.”
“I immediately thought about how inspired the CFHS thespian students would be if they were able to attend, but
knew that financially it would be a barrier for some of our students. It is a privilege to be able to attend a ‘Hamilton’ production. I know how hard Mrs. Grant works to provide new opportunities for her students so knew this was an opportunity for me to step up,” Agonia added. “I had the idea to fundraise to send students and immediately it was well received. Everyone from community members, former educators in our district, PPAC board members and staff, to people who have never stepped foot in our square mile – everyone knew this could be a life-changing opportunity for our students.”
Grant expressed gratitude for Agonia and the benefactors who made it possible for students from the square-mile city to attend a Broadway show in Providence.
“Across the board, it’s amazing how many alumni have given back and even people who are not alumni, they don’t know how far their dollar goes,” she said. “I’ve had kids who’ve been afraid to get on stage, they’re not afraid to read a book but getting on stage? Oh my goodness. I had one student who was bullied and ended up at Harvard, he became, by being able to get on stage, a thespian. I think my program is very small but has a very big effect.”
Cindi Frances, a senior at Central Falls High, described “Hamilton” as “awesome. It was beautiful.”
“It touched my heart and made me feel like I could identify with them, like I want to do that in my future,” she said. “It got me very emotional, it was perfect, it was amazing. It was the best play I’ve ever watched.”
Lesdin Salazar, a Class of 2013 alumna who now works at Calcutt Middle School, said she was unsure of what to expect of Wednesday’s show, knowing it was going to be a three-hour-long musical.
“I was a little hesitant, but maybe 10 minutes in I knew it was going to be the best play I’ve ever seen,” Salazar said. “It was truly incredible, remarkable, the script was just perfect. I really truly enjoyed the entire show.”
Jonathan Bissonnette on Twitter @J_Bissonnette