Late in the ceremonies, as the 3rd Annual Blumey Awards approached their climax on Sunday evening, there was a unique and special interlude. On the huge projection screen that had shown us the nominees for the best high school theater achievements across the Metrolina area - in acting, directing, student orchestra, choreography execution, costume creation and set construction - a past winner addressed us, larger than life.
This was Eva Noblezada, even today not quite graduated from Northwest School of the Arts, in a prerecorded statement originating from backstage at the upcoming London production of Miss Saigon. Noblezada isn't merely in the Miss Saigon cast; she's in the title role, opening this week in a show that has tallied a record-breaking £10.2 million in advance sales. Awards hostess Maureen O'Boyle then had the sellout crowd at Belk Theater send Noblezada their best "break a leg" wishes on a video of our own, coupled with a standing O.
In capsule form, this is the arc - the impossible dream - that has been created by the Blumeys for all the 39 schools that compete and for every high schooler who auditions for a spot in their musical productions. Getting nominated for the Best Actor and Best Actress awards brings you one step closer, with an opportunity to perform Uptown for a full house of theater lovers and screaming supporters. Over-the-moon winners are then flown to New York, where they compete for the national Jimmy Awards and perform live on a Broadway stage, time-sharing with The Lion King.
What can happen on that stage will never be forgotten, thanks to Noblezada's meteoric rise to stardom. She didn't win nationals last year, but she was a finalist, enough to bring her to the notice of the casting agent who hooked her up with the legendary Cameron Mackintosh.
No wonder the screams were so deafening all evening long.
While it's satisfying enough to witness all this youthful enthusiasm, which has already reached the limits that the Belk can handle, the increased number of participating schools continues to up the intensity and quality of the competition. You can see it in the six excerpts by the finalists for Wells Fargo Best Musical - and in the medleys performed by the sweet six competing for each of the big acting prizes. In the three years I've attended, I've seen the gap between the winners and the weakest also-rans narrow dramatically.
Still, there was no denying that the sampling we saw from Northwest's Shrek The Musical blew me away like no other. Both of the songs in the knockout "This Is Our Story/I'm a Believer" combo were added to the score after the show opened on Broadway to lukewarm reviews, and they make for a electrifying finale. As powerful as the ensemble was, there were also spotlight moments for all four performers who swept the Blumey acting awards, Mekhai Lee as Shrek, Abby Corrigan as Princess Fiona, Phillip Johnson as Donkey and Keston Steele as Dragon.
They and the entire ensemble executed some blindingly fast choreography as "I'm a Believer" went into overdrive, bringing the entire audience to its feet. Nine of the 12 awards went to Northwest, two traveled south of the border to South Pointe High in Rock Hill for the costumes and set of Tarzan, and Providence High's orchestra took top honors for their exploits in The Drowsy Chaperone.
Like O'Boyle, I can hardly wait till next year. The Blumeys have already reached full flower, and they're only going to get better. Meanwhile, Lee and Corrigan are Broadway-bound.