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COVID Made It Tough for High School Musical Theater, but Kids and Teachers Never Gave Up

The Blumey Award Auditions at Butler High School.

A Reimagined Blumey Awards Celebrates Their Tenacity and Talent

by Mark Wallace
There’s a phrase in the business: “the show must go on.” And so must the ninth annual Blumey Awards – Blumenthal Performing Arts’ celebration of excellence in high school musical theater, presented by Wells Fargo.
Even though many high schools in the region were unable to produce a theatrical show this year due to the impact of the coronavirus, Blumenthal was committed to providing students with an opportunity to perform.
“It is essential to keep theater alive in our schools and to give students the chance to express themselves, connect, and excel through the performing arts,” said Blumenthal Vice President of Education Andie Maloney.
For the past several months, high school students have been busy rehearsing and performing for judges at their schools to determine nominees for best actor and best actress for each school. Those nominees were all invited to a two-day workshop with industry professionals in April and auditioned again to see who would be named overall best actor and best actress.
Andie Maloney
David Dabbon
While there won’t be a traditional live ceremony again this year, Maloney said: “This year’s Blumey Awards Celebration ... will feature all of the schools’ nominees in a phenomenal opening number arranged by (music director) David Dabbon, several small-group musical performances, medleys featuring solo performances by our top six best actor and best actress nominees, the announcement of our best actor and actress winners, and our traditional closing number composed by David Dabbon, ‘Don’t Be Surprised.’”
The students have been rehearsing virtually to be part of the 30-minute Blumey Awards Celebration that will air for the first time on PBS Charlotte May 25 at 8 p.m.
Covenant Day School auditions for The Blumey Awards.
Dabbon, an Emmy nominated composer/arranger based in New York City, began his preparations in February to music direct, arrange and orchestrate the program, working with Dawn Anthony as co-music director, and Tyler McKenzie and Linda Booth as choreographers.
Anthony is a North Carolina-based singer, music educator, author and playwright. McKenzie, who first got into theater as a student in the Charlotte area, went on to perform in Hamilton, Mama Mia and Matilda and more and became a dance professor at Penn State University. Booth has choreographed more than 250 productions in regional, professional and educational theater, and is an award-winning dance instructor who has taught more than 25,000 youths in theater and dance.
Blumey auditions for Central Academy of Technology and Arts.
“It's been a really collaborative process with our team,” said Dabbon. “One of the things that we’re working on is figuring out ways that we can feature as many people as we can throughout the entire ceremony. It's really important to me that each individual brings their own personality to the work that they're doing.”
Dabbon said viewers can look forward to songs from many different musicals packed into the program, including songs from Hamilton, Rent and Wicked.
“Dawn and I keep smiling throughout our conversations – we are constantly complementing these students and their spectacular gifts,” said Dabbon. “I truly can't wait to celebrate all of them and the schools that they are representing.”

Linda Franzese
All that talent has made judging quite difficult, according to Linda Franzese, a retired musical theater and choir teacher who has been a Blumey judge since the second year of the program.
“The talent this year was excellent,” she said. “Students were well prepared and enthusiastic about participating. It’s going to be really difficult to pick winners from the vast pool of talent.”
Throughout the month of March, over 330 students from 34 participating schools completed the audition process.
Blumey Awards auditions for various schools.
Franzese said that while that meant a lot of paperwork and written analyses for the judges, including constructive feedback for each student to improve their craft, she felt the students had the biggest challenge because of the audition process.

Whereas in years past three adjudicators attended each school musical program and rated performances in several categories, this year the students performed solo for the judges to ensure the safety of all participants.
“When the actors are in a large-scale musical production, they become immersed in their character. The dialogue and musical numbers flow easily from one to the other,” Franzese explained. “This year, the students had to quickly mentally prepare, introduce themselves and then begin.”
She said most of the students sang live with ample precautions, and a few performed online. “At the end of each day, the judges collaborated to choose the actor and actress who would represent that particular school.”
Judges at Northwest Cabarrus High.
Suzie Hunsaker, a former volunteer usher for Blumenthal, was a Blumey Awards judge for the first time last year and didn’t hesitate to accept the task again this year.
“I love the energy and enthusiasm of theater kids,” she said. “There was so much talent. I love to see the spark. Some people just have the ‘it’ factor – the rare natural ability to light up a stage with their presence – and you really want to see more of them. I saw quite a few of those, and it makes me happy that the future of theater is in good hands.”
The best actor and best actress from The Blumey Awards will go on to compete at the national level, as in the past.
“Our winners will participate in a virtual Jimmy Awards program this summer, which will include workshops with top industry professionals,” Maloney said. This year, the coaching and other activities for The Jimmy Awards will happen online for the 70 nominees from 35 regions in the U.S.
Several previous Blumey Award participants have walked away from The Jimmy Awards with Broadway careers. Don’t forget to tune into this year’s Blumey Awards Celebration at 8 p.m. May 25 on PBS Charlotte to see who will move on. ◼