When Busby Berkeley started filming "Babes in Arms" in 1938, 18-year-old Mickey Rooney and his co-star, 16-year-old Judy Garland, were prime high-school age.
The movie was the first of four "Hey kids, let's put on a show!" films that suggested pulling together a musical production was an easy solution to a problem. High-school music and drama departments across the nation know better, but they still stage an annual musical despite the inevitable blood, sweat and tears.
Dozens of Utah students will be celebrated for their contributions to musical theater during the annual Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards a show based on a similar format as the Tony and Oscar awards. The Saturday event, sponsored by Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre (UFOMT), takes place on the stage of Utah State University's Kent Concert Hall in Logan. UFOMT is affiliated with the National Alliance for Musical Theatre, which also hosts an annual awards competition.
This will be UFOMT's third year hosting the event, which crowns the "best" in 16 categories, such as leading actor/actress, supporting actor/actress, choreographer, technical crew, orchestra and, of course, best musical. A full list of categories and finalists can be found at http://www.utahfestival.org. (Click on the "education" tab.)
The competition is orchestrated by Vanessa Ballam, the company's education director and daughter of company founder and general director Michael Ballam. Ballam and her father heard the buzz about a national theater awards program a few years ago and applied to be a state sponsor. After being accepted, the Ballams worked to make the event an important part of the company's education outreach program, which also includes the Opera by Students program for elementary schools, the Youth Conservatory for ages 5-18 and the Utah Festival Academy for youth and adults.
Michael Ballam will travel the length of the state, stopping along the way to work with the 41 leading and supporting acting nominees as they prepare group medleys for the awards show. "He's the one with the dream and the ability to put people in the right place to make this happen," Vanessa Ballam said about her father.
"Everything in the theater world takes collaboration," Ballam said about the company's educational objective to bring students together to rehearse and learn from professionals and each other. "Watching them work together is exciting beyond words."
Former Alta High School student Peter Lambert knows about the benefits of collaboration. Last year, as Utah's best leading high-school actor, he received a one-year full-ride scholarship he currently attends Brigham Young University in Provo and an all-expenses trip to New York City (paid for by UFOMT) to compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards.
When Lambert arrived in the Big Apple, he found a demanding, intimidating environment, but the experience confirmed that a career in theater was a legitimate option. "They expected a lot from us, but I felt that's what I needed," he said. "It helped me realize that I could and wanted to do this."
He gained friends and met people who could help him later, if he pursues a theater career. He also gained a New York credit, something few students his age can boast. "I don't know if [the New York competition] had a direct result for anything, but the experience changed my outlook on where I'm going and what I'm doing."
This year, 32 schools participated in the Utah competition, which required 24 volunteer judges, many of them college professors and theater professionals. Each judge attended at least three performances. When the musical season was over, they collaborated to select finalists and winners, often viewing performance clips provided by each school.
Kevin Nakatani, UFOMT's education business manager, was apprehensive when asked to judge, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.
"The first show I saw blew me away," he said. "I got terribly excited after that and have been very impressed since." He finds it difficult to watch the shows with a critical eye and not get swept up in the performance, sometimes forgetting to watch for the many categories he needs to score.
Next year, UFOMT will add a category for best cameo to recognize cast members who steal the show with charisma and talent but don't qualify for the leading categories.
Unlike high-school sports competitions, student finalists cheer nearly as loudly for other schools as their own. "It's really been a celebration," Vanessa Ballam said about the awards show. Students working together to stage a musical production build a common bond theater gets in their blood.
Utah High School Musical Theater Awards
When • Saturday, April 27, 7 p.m.
Where • Kent Concert Hall, Utah State University, 4015 Old Main Hill, Logan
Tickets • $20 adults; $15 students; $6.50 participants, available through artTix, http://www.arttix.org, or at the Utah Festival Box Office, 800-262-0074 ext. 3, Dansante Building, 59 S. 100 West, Logan. Group and student discounts available only through the box office.
Details • utahfestival.org, click "education" tab
And the winner is â¦
Eleven Utah high schools are nominated for best musical. For a full list of categories and finalists, visit http://www.utahfestival.org; click on the "education" tab.
Alta • "Once on This Island"
American Leadership Academy • "The Little Mermaid"
Bountiful • "The Drowsy Chaperone"
Hillcrest • "The Will Rogers Follies"
Lehi • "My Favorite Year"
Lone Peak • "Les MisÃ©rables"
Ogden • "Into the Woods"
Olympus • "Hairspray"
Pine View • "The Sound of Music"
Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts • "Legally Blonde"
West Jordan • "Once Upon a Mattress"