Thursday, May 24, 2012

Birth of the Blumeys

Posted By on Thu, May 24, 2012 at 10:04 AM

Twenty high school productions, thirteen theatre judges, hundreds of stagestruck students — acting, singing, dancing, playing band instruments, building sets, sewing costumes, and running lights — plus thousands of screaming fans gathered together at Belk Theater have made it happen. And we're giving out the news: Blumenthal Performing Arts, Wells Fargo, and talented high school students and teachers across Metrolina have given birth to the Blumey Awards.

  • "Dance at the Gym" from West Side Story, Northwest School of the Arts

The amazing phenomenon, hordes of students cheering for their theatre heroes and heroines as lustily as they cheer for their football and basketball stars, began up north in the Steel City. Back in 1991, the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera established the Gene Kelly Awards to recognize the best in local high school musical theatre. By 2009, there were enough of these awards programs around the country for Pittsburgh CLO to band together with Broadway producers of the Nederlander Organization to create the Jimmys — or the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. Dozens of other regional theatre organizations, representing approximately 1,000 schools, send their winners to the annual event in New York.

This year, Charlotte will be a part of it — New York, New York!

Blumenthal Performing Arts nursed it after PAC education director Ralph Beck witnessed the Jimmy Awards in 2010. Blumey brass drew Metrolina schools, theatre professional judges, a corporate sponsor, and an ongoing scholarship program into the Awards machine. Once the juggernaut was set in motion for 2011-12, a pair of directors and a full production team — music director, choreographer, sound and lighting designers — worked flawlessly together so that the awards show was fresh and polished.

Yeah, they rehearsed it. Two emissaries from each of the 20 competing schools participated in an opening number and a finale. Six schools nominated for Best Musical performed excerpts from their shows, two of them from outside the Charlotte area, including the winner, South Point High from Belmont for Jekyll & Hyde. After these ensemble pieces, the six finalists for Best Actress and Best Actor combined with their rivals in slick medleys that had all the singers taking turns harmonizing, singing backup, and reprising their killer solos.

  • "Song of the King" from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Charlotte Latin School

VIP presenters gave out the awards, adding to the Tony Awards aura of the occasion. Among the glad-handers were NC Dance Theatre's Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Charlotte Symphony's Jonathan Martin, and NBA star Stephen Curry. Appropriately, scholarship donors Don and Mary Doctor were on hand to support the Best Supporting Actor and Actress winners — right before the announcement of the two $10,000 Mary Doctor Performing Arts Scholarship Awards won by Charlotte Christian School's Bethany Kinect and Northwest School of the Arts' Lexie Wolfe.

Wells Fargo dispatched their deputy general counsel Rebecca Henderson to hand out the ultimate prize for Wells Fargo Best Musical. She neither arrived by stagecoach nor explained what happened to the sheriff, but some of the scripted stuff by the presenters was pretty sharp. And some of it, in true Tony and Oscar style, was pretty corny.

The winning high school musical doesn't go up to New York to compete for the Jimmys. That privilege is reserved for the winners of the Best Actress and Best Actor prizes — five days of private coaching, master classes, and rehearsals with theater professionals on campus at NYU's famed Tisch School of the Arts. Participants prepare for their climactic performances on Broadway at the Minskoff Theatre on June 25, when the winners of the Jimmy Awards, selected by a panel of theatre pros, are announced.

You can't accuse the Blumey judges of a Charlotte bias. Kyle Conroy, from Jay M. Robinson HS in Concord, won the Best Actor Award for his Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors; and Taylor Neal, from Cuthbertson HS in Waxhaw, took the Best Actress award for her Belle in Beauty and the Beast.

Taylor Neal accepts her Blumey Award for Best Actress
  • Taylor Neal accepts her Blumey Award for Best Actress

They may not come home with the Jimmys next month, but they will be among an elite group of 60 students from 30 regions competing for the prize. Win or lose, Conroy and Neal will always be the first to represent Charlotte at Nationals. Trust me, they won't be the last. The Belk was ringing with excitement for the 2012 Blumey Awards — so were my eardrums from the crazed cheering — and the 2013 Blumeys promise to be the toughest ticket in town. Wells Fargo and the PAC may need to televise that baby to meet the compounded interest.

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