More than 2,000 high school students packed the Orpheum Theatre on Wednesday to see a free matinee preview of "Hamilton" as part of a history education program.
All the students had done their homework, though, as part of a curriculum designed by the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History to provide a background on the Revolutionary War.
Some of the teenagers had memorized the songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda's the blockbuster musical. Others were just glad to be on a field trip.
But each student worked with their history teachers to research original historical documents and write a poem, skit, rap or song about the founding fathers.
Then the students from each of the 18 schools from around the Bay Area voted for the best performance to represent their school and be presented on stage at the Orpheum.
The teens got up in front of a theater full of their peers, most of whom they didn't know, and sang, recited or rapped about early American history, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
The students had researched dense letters, newspaper stories and original documents and interpreted them as original performances, incorporating their own sensibilities and contemporary references.
Even when a few nervous teens stumbled or forgot their lines, the crowd cheered them on.
Sierra Fisher, 16, a junior at the Conservatory of Vocal/Instrumental Arts in Oakland said she wanted to see Hamilton ever since she first heard the music.
But when she went online to look up ticket prices for the San Francisco run, "I realized I'd have to sell one of my kidneys to afford them. So this is absolutely amazing. We're so grateful to be here."
"Being here is surreal," said her friend, Andrew Sylva, who couldn't contain his excitement. "They're going to be on the stage! On the stage, right in front of us!"
A panel of actors answered the teenagers' questions about both history and careers in show business.
Gilder Lehrmann President James Basker said the actors enjoy performing for young people because the students have studied the historical background to follow the action.
Many of the teens have little experience attending live theater performances, he added.
"With no inhibitions, they're responding directly and emotionally to everything they see on the stage, and the cast can feel that. There's no restraint in the audience. They're emoting directly into what the cast is doing on the stage and they love it," Basker said.
The Gilder Lehrman Institute plans to send more than 8,000 Bay Area high school students to see "Hamilton" during the show's run in San Francisco.
The schools at the March 22 included Arise, Castlemont, Oakland Tech, Oakland High, Richmond High, Tennyson, Ygnacio Valley, KIPP San Jose, Impact Academy, and others.
The show has its official press opening on Thursday and runs through August 5.