by Barrett Seaman
Who Will Tell Your Story? asks the title of a brand new musical production about Hamilton—that is, the family that survived Alexander Hamilton after Aaron Burr shot him to death in 1804.
The story, subtitled An Evening with the Hamiltons of Irvington, focuses on the life of Hamilton’s oldest surviving son, James, whose own legacy is deeply intertwined with that of the village. And the storytellers are Irvington students, who have been rehearsing twice weekly since January for two performances set for Sunday, April 23 at the Irvington Town Hall Theater.
In addition to three songs, each representing a phase of James Hamilton’s life, the program will also include a talk by Yale University History Professor Joanne Freeman and a reconstructed conversation between James Hamilton and his Irvington friend and neighbor Washington Irving, the former played by yet another Irvingtonian, Rutgers History Professor Neil Maher (not quite as well known locally as his mother Gina, legendary coach of the Irvington High School Girls Basketball team). Irvington High Social Studies teacher, Dr. Erik Weiselberg, will play author Irving, the village’s namesake.
The composer of the three songs is Irvington eighth grader Liam Oley, whose musical talent may well have him nipping at the heels of Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and original star of Hamilton: The Musical. A piano student since he was four, Liam has managed to capture the mood and intensity of Miranda’s Broadway hit, setting his music to a Rap-styled libretto, written by retired Irvington High Principal, Dr. Scott Mosenthal.
Aided by vocal coach Sasha Paris Carter, a fellow eight grader (and an accomplished pianist in her own right), Oley has whipped a couple of dozen fellow students, mostly fourth and fifth graders, into post-revolutionary fervor as they recreate the Hamilton sequel.
Hamilton, a lawyer by training, built the family estate on what was originally 154 acres of Hudson River property in 1835 in what is now Irvington and named it Nevis, after the Caribbean island where his father was born. He died there in 1878. The house still stands as the centerpiece of Columbia University’s Nevis Laboratories.
“It’s the story of America then but told in the style of America now,” Oley explained. Inspired by Miranda’s lyrics and music (which he and his schoolmates have practically committed to memory), Oley wrote the three numbers by plugging a keyboard into his laptop and layering on instrumentation with the app, GarageBand. Irvington music teacher George Croom helped put the final touches on the score.
“He’s taken this to the 16th level,” Mosenthal said of Liam. A keen admirer of Lin-Manuel Miranda, young Master Oley sees himself eventually as a playwright. Poised beyond his years, he nonetheless betrays youthful excitement as he contemplates his Town Hall Theater debut: “No one has ever seen this performed before!” he marveled.
Originally scheduled as a single performance at 7 p.m. on the 23rd by its sponsor, the Irvington Historical Society, the show sold out in less than four hours, as the families of the performers gobbled up the free tickets. So a second show has been scheduled for 2 p.m. that afternoon. Some advice: order soon at www.irvingtontheater.com.