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South Charlotte actors, actresses compete in inaugural Charlotte Blumey Awards

by Morgan Smith

Charlotte Latin senior Will Branner leads the cast in song as Joseph in the Upper School musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” presented Feb 23 through 25. Photo courtesy of Jeff Cravotta

Elaborate costume design, interesting choreography and outstanding set construction are only several factors that go into a great student play. Throw in superb acting, bold student orchestras and talented singers and you may have yourself a hit.

And now, many Charlotte high schools have the chance to see who did it best, thanks to Blumenthal Performing Arts.

Four south Charlotte high schools are participating in this year’s inaugural Blumey Awards, a new program patterned after Broadway’s Tony Awards that will give out trophies for Best Actor and Actress among several others.

Twenty schools are participating in the competition, including Ardrey Kell High, Charlotte Christian, Charlotte Latin and South Mecklenburg High. Judges will watch South Meck students perform the musical “Bye, Bye Birdie” later this month, April 19 through 22, while the other three schools have already been judged.

Each musical is viewed and evaluated by a panel of three judges from the Charlotte-theater community. The judges will award points according to detailed guidelines, nominating six finalists each for 13 different categories of awards: from Best Actor and Best Actress, to Best Lighting Execution and the top spot of Wells Fargo Best Musical Award. Wells Fargo is sponsoring the competition.

Ardrey Kell High School students presented “Crazy For You” Feb. 23 through 25. (Left to right) Ashley Howard, Katie Collins, Epiphany Hardin, Meghan Lemmen, Ayanna Tucker, McKenzie Wilson, Kelly Kapur, Jackie Lloyd and Dominique Smith. Photo courtesy of Timothy Lemmen

For Ardrey Kell High School, their presentation of “Crazy for You” was topnotch, said theatre teacher Heidi Breeden. Performing in late February, Breeden said the students were challenged with choreography.

“I think the performances went really well,” she said, “’Crazy for You’ is a big tap show, but most of them were not kids that have been tapping all their life – most of them had to learn at the school.”

Breeden said the Blumey Awards is an exciting venture because it brings a bit of competition into the mix, while creating a sense of camaraderie and respect.

“It also encourages (students) to go see what their peers are doing at other schools. I like to see them recognizing the good work other schools are doing,” she added.

At Charlotte Christian School, theater director Lori Anne Sword said it was business as usual for their production of “Westside Story” last weekend.

“I think we did exactly the regular process that we always do – everybody deserves the best show (the students) can constantly give,” she said.

The competition team is used to working under pressure, Sword said, so when it came time for the Blumey judges to view their performance, she gave the students a heads-up that the judges were there.

Charlotte Christian School students presented West Side Story March 29 to 31. (Left to right) Shelley Leazer, Morgan Gray, Kyndall Sutherland, Faith Hanegraaff and Anna Farish (lying down). Photo courtesy of Whitney Gray Photography

“I had toyed with the idea of not telling the students which night,” Sword explained, but “it was the strongest performance with them knowing the judges were coming.”

Same went for Charlotte Latin students when they performed “Joseph & the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” in late February, Julie Strassel, theater chair at the school, said.

“We are very proud of productions we’ve done in the past,” Strassel said. She explained to her students that the production was not necessarily for the judges. “Just have a great show for you and your family and friends who are out there,” is Strassel’s philosophy. “We just did what we do and we just sort of leave it up to the judges to decide if this is a top six show.”

Strassel said the idea of the awards is great because it really puts theater students in the spotlight, recognizing their level of dedication and commitment that is sometimes overlooked.

Bonnie Hall, theatre teacher at South Mecklenburg High School, hasn’t talked to her students yet about their participation in the awards, but plans to surprise them when they return from spring break.

“I’m telling them of a way of boosting their confidence – not to scare them,” she said. Many of her students are in their first year acting and she wants to ensure the competition doesn’t affect their performance in a negative way.

Hall entered her students in the competition because she said it’s an opportunity she never had.

“I never got a chance to be recognized for doing theater,” she said. “I think it shows them that there are other people in the community that appreciate what you are doing.”

Schools will receive feedback from judges April 27, where they’ll find out who is nominated. A formal awards ceremony will be held May 20 at the Belk Theater and will feature performances by the six finalists for Best Musical, as well as medley performances by the six finalists for Best Actor and Best Actress. Tickets will go on sale in early May and are $15 for students, $20 for teachers and $30 for adults.

Students awarded Best Actor and Best Actress will receive an all-expenses-paid trip and weeklong stay in New York City where they will train and compete with other regional winners in a national competition known as The Jimmy Awards. One leading actor and one leading actress from each school were nominated by their school to be eligible for those awards. In south Charlotte, Nick Sidoran and Kelly Kapur are eligible for Ardrey Kell High; Michael Julliard and Emma VanDeVelde for Charlotte Christian; Will Branner and Heather Rossi for Charlotte Latin; and Tanner Bass and Liza Veilleux for South Mecklenburg.

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