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'I can hardly even wait:' As 'Hamilton' hits Austin, meet the show's junior super-fans

Kelsey Bradshaw
Austin 360

There's usually a moment when you know a musical is going to be part of your life forever. Maybe it's when Rita Moreno kicks her purple skirt up in "West Side Story," or when Cynthia Erivo hits "I'm Here" in "The Color Purple" so vibrantly that you cry. 

Or maybe you just love the way a group of people singing and dancing together makes you feel like your belly is full of stars and your skin is made of pins.

No matter. There's usually a show that gets you hooked. 

For a whole generation of kids, "Hamilton" is their gateway. 

Before the Lin-Manuel Miranda show's touring company arrives on Dec. 7 in Austin, we spoke with Central Texas kids and their parents about how "Hamilton" opened up a love of musical theater in their lives. It runs until Dec. 19 at Bass Concert Hall.

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The hip-hop musical chronicling the life of Alexander Hamilton, one of America's founding fathers, came onto the Broadway scene in 2015 and exploded in popularity. And the kids who love the musical really, really love it.

Truly Jones, 10, wants you to know she doesn't like the real King George, but she is obsessed with Jonathan Groff's portrayal in the show's original cast. Evelyn Helsel, 11, was set to play Alexander Hamilton in a local production before the pandemic hit. J.J. Ried, 11, went as Hamilton for Halloween.

And Adeline Johnson? We were only able to interview her mom, because Adeline, who is still a baby, was spellbound watching "Hamilton" during our call.

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Adeline Johnson is a little over a year old and possibly loved "Hamilton" before she was born. The science isn't there yet to know for sure.

When Allie Johnson was pregnant with Adeline, she and her husband, Kolton, watched the musical after it was released on Disney+ in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic. In October 2020, Adeline was born. It would take about four more months for "Hamilton" to officially enter her life.

Allie Johnson and her daughter, Adeline, sit in front of their TV playing ‘Hamilton’ on Disney+ at their home in Pflugerville on Dec. 3. Adeline isn’t interested in cartoons, said her mother, but loves to watch the Broadway musical.

"One night she wasn't going to sleep, and she has never really been a baby who likes to be rocked. But we turned on 'Hamilton,' and she just got silent and would dead-stare at the TV. It's been the weirdest thing, and it's like that to this day," Allie Johnson said.

She watched the show on a road trip from Barcelona to Paris earlier this year. She watched it on plane rides to and from Washington. 

"It comes to a point in the car that she doesn't let us listen to any other music. She just screams — not in a super mad way, but she'll be like, 'Ahhh!' until we turn it on. Then she gets silent," Allie Johnson said. 

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Adeline has always loved music, her mom said. When Adeline was born, she had to be put in a cast due to hip dysplasia. Once the cast came off, she instantly started crawling. Then she started to dance. When her parents would put on "Hamilton" for her, she would scoot and bob her head to the music. 

"It comes to a point in the car that she doesn't let us listen to any other music," Allie Johnson said of her "Hamilton"-loving baby, Adeline.

"It's blown our minds. We don't know why she refuses to watch any cartoons," Allie Johnson said. 

Adeline loves Marquis de Lafayette, who is played by Daveed Diggs in the filmed version of the show, and she loves Jonathan Groff's King George. 

"It's been the king since she was 6 months old. You can't beat Jonathan Groff," Allie Johnson said. 

Allie Johnson believes Adeline will continue to love musicals as she grows up: "She's gotten so many people to watch it."

When the Johnsons have visitors, or when someone babysits Adeline, Allie Johnson warns them that they'll probably have to watch "Hamilton." People who hate musicals and people who don't like history end up loving it, she said. 

"Adeline is broadening the Broadway horizon for everyone," Allison Johnson said.

'It's extremely entertaining'

When Truly Jones, 10, sat down to watch "Hamilton" on Disney+ for the first time, she thought: "I'm gonna hate this. I'm gonna hate this."

But then: "I just really loved it."

"It's a really good musical because, first of all, it teaches you about history in a very musical way. That was really fun," Jones said. 

"It's extremely entertaining," she said, including Lin-Manuel Miranda's "amazing" writing.

Truly Jones, 10, wears a King George T-shirt. The character, played by Jonathan Groff in the original Broadway production of "Hamilton" that was filmed for Disney+, is one of her favorites.

Jones also loves "Wicked," "Six" and "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series." She pointed out that she grew up with Miranda's work. She's watched Disney films like "Moana" and "Mary Poppins Returns," and she recently saw "In The Heights" in theaters. 

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Her "Hamilton" love has also extended to her closet. For her birthday last year, Jones received a King George T-shirt.

"Truly, you haven't even talked about how much you love the king," Christina Jones, her mom, said.

"Oh God!" Truly Jones said. "I don't like the king in real life." 

The T-shirt reads, "Awesome, wow," which are lyrics from one of the songs the king sings in the show. 

Truly's other favorite "Hamilton" moment is the song "Satisfied."

"We had to actually ban that song for a few days, because I'd wake up and it's in my mind, and I go to sleep and it's in my mind," Christina Jones said.

She added: "But we do sing them in the car at the top of our lungs, right?" 

Truly sang back: "I know my sister like I know my own mind/ You will never find anyone as trusting or as kind."

A years-long obsession

Evelyn Helsel, who is 11 years old (and will turn 12 in April, she'd like you to know), has loved "Hamilton" for a long time. 

Her dad got her a book of "Hamilton" lyrics when the show came out in 2015. Evelyn was 5 or 6 years old. The obsession started then and has yet to cease. 

"Oh yeah, I was almost in a production of 'Hamilton,'" she mentioned casually. "It was an Adderley School production. I spent time practicing, and then COVID hit."

"I got cast as Alexander Hamilton and never got to be Hamilton," she said.

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She now takes weekly voice lessons. Last year, she counted down the days to the filmed show's release on Disney+. She also has discovered more musicals: "Wicked," "Heathers," "Beetlejuice" and "Hadestown." 

Evelyn Helsel, 11, sings while "Hamilton" plays on the television behind her.

"I love the ones that are connected to other things," Helsel said, noting that "Hadestown" ties in with Greek mythology. 

With "Hamilton," Helsel said "it's just the way how it's hip-hop, rap and historical all at the same time. For some reason, I love the fact that it ties back to the truth."

When Helsel's mom, Carolyn Helsel, mentioned that they saw the play "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child," Evelyn was quick to remind her: "That's not a musical, mom," dragging out that vowel in "mom." (For what it's worth, Evelyn thinks the story in the "Cursed Child" is "a bit lacking.")

Evelyn's favorite parts of "Hamilton" are always in a state of flux. For a while, it was the second act. And then it was all the sad songs. But it's also Groff. 

"I like Jonathan Groff, not because of his singing or anything, but how into his character he got," Helsel said. 

Helsel will see "Hamilton" this month at Bass Concert Hall.

"I'm excited to see the choreography," she said.

Washington's right-hand man

J.J. Ried, 11, has a white-and-orange tabby cat named General George Washington (who used to be called "Aaron Purr"). Ried dressed up as Alexander Hamilton for Halloween this year and convinced his older sister and her boyfriend to join him as Eliza Schuyler and King George. All of his school papers, if given a choice, are about Alexander Hamilton.

J.J. Ried is an 11-year-old who lives in Georgetown, and he loves "Hamilton."

"I like 'Hamilton' because it's fun to watch, and I was very curious about his life and history," Ried said. 

He was introduced to the show last year when it came out on Disney+. His mom, Lisa Ried, had seen the musical when it came to Austin before.

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Since then, he's seen "Beauty and the Beast," and he got to go see "Grease" with his grandma at Georgetown Palace Theatre. "Hamilton" has also instilled some interest in new hobbies.

"I've been singing 'Hamilton' a lot," he said. "It made me want to act in a play and actually want to play the piano."

Sebastian Hartley, Sammantha Loomis and J.J. Ried dressed up as characters from "Hamilton" for Halloween.

When he plays Minecraft, Ried will mute the game's sound and play the "Hamilton" soundtrack instead. 

What is it, though, about Hamilton?

"He wrote very fast. He became George Washington's right-hand man," Ried said. "I like how he didn't give up."

Ried will get to see "Hamilton" at Bass Concert Hall, and he can't decide what part he's most excited to experience.

"That's a hard one," he said.

"His face just lit up trying to think of it," Lisa Ried said. 

He landed on the interaction between Washington and Aaron Burr. 

"I'm just excited to watch his reaction to it all. I don't think I'll hear them sing over him, but we'll see," Lisa Ried said. 

"I can hardly even wait," J.J. Ried said.