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Blumenthal Arts
Winter 2024
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10th AnnIVERSARY Blumey Awards CelebrATION
Birthday Bash Raises $225,000 for the New Blumey Inspire Fund
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Current Blumey Awards students perform at anniversary event.
by Liz Rothaus Bertrand
For the last decade, The Blumey Awards – Blumenthal Arts’ regional high school musical theater awards program – has thrilled audiences and created life-changing memories for participants. Past nominees and winners who got their start on stage at Belk Theater have gone on to put their own mark on the world in remarkable ways.
Blumey Awards 10th Anniversary Celebration - Logom
From Broadway to Hollywood, center stage, backstage and behind the camera, they have followed their dreams in every imaginable field within the arts and beyond. Some have been featured on magazine covers, nominated for Grammys®, Tonys®, Video Music Awards, and more. Wherever they go, they carry their Blumey Awards experience with them.
On Saturday, Jan. 13, Blumenthal paid homage to these incredible achievements and looked toward the future with a spectacular one-night-only event. The 10th Anniversary Blumey Awards Celebration, hosted by award-winning former TV reporter and motivational speaker Brigida Mack and two-time Tony Award-winning producer Thomas Laub, included extraordinary performances from returning alums alongside current high school participants.
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From left, Brigida Mack and Thomas Laub host the 10th Anniversary Blumey Awards Celebration.
Featured alums included Sayo Oni (Hadestown on Broadway, 2018 Blumey Awards Best Actor nominee and 2019 Best Actor winner), Maya Sistruck (world premiere of The Great Gatsby at Paper Mill Playhouse, 2017 Blumey Awards Best Actress nominee, 2018 Best Supporting Actress nominee), Mekhai Lee (The Color Purple national tour, 2012 Blumey Awards Best Actor nominee and 2014 Best Actor winner), and Justin Rivers (world premiere of A Transparent Musical, 2016 and 2017 Blumey Awards Best Actor winner). In all, the performance included 30 alums, 64 students and 24 teachers representing 34 Charlotte-area schools. The production was helmed by Broadway director/choreographer Dan Knechtges and music directed by Broadway composer/arranger David Dabbon, who has overseen The Blumey Awards since its inaugural year.
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Guest enjoy the gala event at Booth Playhouse as part of the Blumeys anniversary celebration.
The evening, which also featured a VIP pre-show gala and post-show party, officially kicked off fundraising toward the Blumey Inspire Fund, a new initiative to expand the Blumey Awards’ reach in innovative ways. Thanks to generous donors, $225,000 was raised to establish the fund. Through it, students in the region will be able to apply for grants to pursue special learning opportunities, purchase equipment and fill other gaps needed to pursue their big dreams. “Every student deserves access to high quality arts experiences, and the Blumey Inspire Fund will help make that a reality,” said Blumenthal Vice President of Education Andie Maloney. Whether it's for a master class, to purchase necessary equipment, launch a new program, or create an experience for students at schools without programs, the Blumey Inspire Fund will help meet the needs identified by young artists.
Every student deserves access to high quality arts experiences, and the Blumey Inspire Fund will help make that a reality.
— Andie Maloney, Blumenthal vice president of education
The fund is part of Blumenthal’s ongoing commitment to ensure that financial barriers don’t stand in the way of blossoming talent. Over the last decade, Blumenthal has invested over $2 million in The Blumey Awards program, and more than 200,000 students have participated at no cost since its inception. In addition, hundreds of students take part in free workshops and master classes offered every year by industry professionals, including cast and crew members from Broadway and touring productions, like Hamilton and Wicked, as part of The Blumey Education Series. Made possible thanks to the generous financial support of Peg and Jay Adamczyk, longtime theater patrons and supporters of the arts and arts education, the series covers topics as varied as dance intensives, stage management, set and costume design, arts journalism and technical theater portfolio preparation. Blumenthal also offers free weeklong performance bootcamps to all of The Blumey Awards Best Actor and Actress finalists . To date, the organization has invested more than $200,000 in this initiative. Since 2012, 78 students have also received over $1.2 million in scholarship support from The Doctor Family Foundation, Gordon Hay Fund, and Spirit of Service program. Each of these programs are administered by Blumenthal’s education department. The new Blumey Inspire Fund will build on Blumenthal’s commitment to helping young people pursue their dreams and increasing access to arts education and resources throughout the community.
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Justin Rivers. Photo by Daniel Coston. .jpg
Sayo Oni. Photo by Daniel Coston. .jpg
Featured Blumey Awards alums perform at the anniversary event. From left, Mekhai Lee, Maya Sistruck, Justin Rivers and Sayo Oni.
Remarkable Achievements
For Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Laub, launching the fund has personal meaning. He grew up in Charlotte and was a two-time Blumey Award Best Actor nominee before heading to University of Michigan, where he started Runyonland Productions. His company is known for its bold, inclusive and critically acclaimed theatrical work. The fund will “elevate access to arts education in the Carolinas,” Laub said, “… without which I certainly would not be in the position I am today.” Laub said so many Charlotteans have gone on to successful theater careers that it has caught the attention of prominent New York theater folk. There’s even a running joke about having to change the rules of the national high school musical theater awards – the Jimmys® – so that Charlotte participants can’t win again. That’s because in its first decade, The Blumey Awards competitors have already won four times against performers from regional competitions all around the U.S. Those victories went to Amina Faye for Best Performance by an Actress in 2016, Anna Hertel for Best Dancer in 2017, Reneé Rapp for Best Performance by an Actress in 2018, and Bryson Battle for Best Performance by an Actor in 2021. That doesn’t include other Charlotte standouts like Eva Noblezada, who didn’t win the overall Jimmys competition but was discovered there and immediately offered a starring role on London’s West End, followed by celebrated turns on Broadway and film; or Sayo Oni, who is currently on Broadway in Hadestown; and others like former Blumey Award Best Actress nominee Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, who went on to star in the title role in Tina - The Tina Turner Musical on the West End and Broadway. There also are extraordinary behind-the-scenes artists, like stage manager Ryan Gardner who has helmed productions on Broadway and national tour.
All Participants Celebrating After a Successful Sh
All participants in the 10th anniversary event celebrate after a successful show.
A Nurturing Community Behind it All
Laub thinks these many success stories reflect the support and nurturing community that area arts educators have created for students. He said it’s not only salaried theater teachers but also outside experts, like vocal coaches, choreographers and teaching artists, who make the difference. They help generate excitement and create a safe space for learning and growth.
It’s “the 101 after-school programs that were afforded at either little or reduced cost that we had access to,” Laub said, “and a lot of times it was educators doing that at their own cost. It was (renowned local choreographer) Linda Booth staying after rehearsal with me to make sure that I could, you know, do some semblance of what someone might call dancing.
“It was those moments, those very human moments, that make Charlotte so special.”
Under Tom Gabbard’s leadership, The Blumeys have become the model Jimmys program. They even model the training for these students to what the Tonys training is … that’s just an incredible opportunity.
— Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League

What The Blumey Awards Do For Young Musical Theater Artists
The program’s success, Laub said, is also a tribute to the work that Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard has done in the community. Laub described him as a generational leader in the arts, not only within the Carolinas but across the nation. “I always say that Tom Gabbard is Charlotte’s not-so-secret, secret weapon. I think the leadership that Tom brings to Blumenthal is truly unparalleled, and I know that growing up in Charlotte I didn't understand that.” Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, also speaks with enthusiasm about Gabbard and what’s happened in Charlotte. The Broadway League is the national trade association for the Broadway industry, which oversees programs like the Tony Awards and the Jimmy Awards.
Current Blumey Awards students perform during the 10th anniversary celebration.
“Under Tom Gabbard’s leadership, The Blumeys have become the model Jimmys program,” she said. “They even model the training for these students to what the Tonys training is … that’s just an incredible opportunity.” She said efforts to expand support to more students through a program like the new Blumey Inspire Fund are essential. “Talent has no boundaries,” she said, “and it’s really important that we find that talent, develop it and share it with the world.” Just consider The Blumey Awards alumnus Liam Pearce, who recently made his Broadway debut starring in How to Dance in Ohio. For the majority of middle school and high school, he grew up in a very low-income house with family trouble at home. “I know there are hundreds and hundreds of kids across Charlotte who are in similar situations,” he said. Through those struggles, one thing kept Pearce going: a love for theater and opportunities to pursue it in the community without having to worry about the price, thanks to low cost or no cost programs. “Finding that love and being able to harness that and learn from that, and have the discipline and grow with that, was super important,” he said “I truly wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not had that access.”
Blumenthal President and CEO Tom Gabbard speaks at The Blumeys anniversary event.
Opening Doors by Investing in Young People
For Gabbard’s part, he says many Blumenthal board members tell him that establishing The Blumey Awards has been the organization’s greatest accomplishment. “It really demonstrates that when we invest in our young people, open a few doors for them, that many of them will go on to achieve great things,” Gabbard said. “But it's incumbent on us to create great programs like that … so that they have a fair chance to succeed.” One of the ways The Blumey Awards lives this vision is by creating an exceptional experience for young participants with skill-building workshops, top-notch production values, and a first-rate team of industry professionals guiding the way. “When we describe this as Tony Awards for high school musical theater in this region, we're serious about that,” Gabbard said. “It needs to be a bang-up show. These kids need to be showcased in a great way. It's a part of making an experience that will inspire them for years to come.” Giving students the chance to work with professionals is not only an incredible learning experience, Gabbard added, it’s also an opportunity for Blumenthal to put that talent in front of Broadway pros who may be able to make recommendations to their peers. And The Blumey Awards legacy is not only about those alums who have found success onstage or behind-the-scenes, it’s about all the young people it inspires no matter what they decide to pursue. They take what they have learned and put it into practice in other ways. “Ultimately, we're creating a small army of talented folks who will be difference-makers in their community in the arts or outside the arts,” he said, “but they're committed to accomplishing good things, and I think that's a remarkable achievement to celebrate.” ◼
The 11th annual Blumey Awards, sponsored by Bank of America,
will take place on May 26, 2024
CLICK to Donate to the Blumey Inspire Fund