Take 60 extremely talented, highly motivated teenagers and send them to New York City. Put them through a weeklong theatrical boot camp and give the best among them National High School Musical Theater Awards.
The drama will create itself, right?
Yes and no. Because these kids including a pair from Utah aren't exactly the back-stabbing, reality TV types. Although they did end up as the stars of the three-part PBS reality show "Broadway or Bust."
"It was more about what it's like to work on Broadway than it was a competition," said Peter Lambert, who earlier this year graduated from Alta High, and won the prize as the top male performer at the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards in March (which are staged by Logan's Utah Festival Opera and Music Theatre). "We all became family."
"The best part of the experience by far was how close we got," agreed Malia Morely, Utah's top female performer and recent Hillcrest High grad. "To be on the stage with them was like you were with your family. It was crazy."
The format of the Jimmy Awards, named for Broadway theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander, is that two winners from each of 30 regional competitions spend a week at New York University being drilled by Broadway veterans as they work up a show.
"Broadway or Bust" is a three-part reality show about the Jimmys that introduces viewers to the contestants and offers a glimpse into the intense program that features fresh-faced youngsters butting heads with the business of show business. And, hopefully, coming out the other side with idealism intact.
"They make me believe that there's a future for the arts and what's happening in this country," said Kiesha Lalama, project director and Jimmy Awards choreographer. "What you have to remember is that they're not bitter and jaded yet."
But they did get a big dose of reality. The teens rehearsed for 12 hours a day for a week, then performed their show.
"I think what it gave all of us is a little glimpse into what it's like to actually work on Broadway," Lambert said. "It was very difficult."
Difficult, as in being pushed beyond the breaking point. "They told us, 'You're going to get to the point where you break and you can't go any further, and we're going to help you past that point and we're going to move through it together," Morely said. "That absolutely happened."
Of course PBS isn't airing a reality show such as "Real Housewives" or "Big Brother," but that doesn't mean the producers didn't try to ramp things up a bit.
"The cameras were always in our faces trying to provoke some drama," Morely said. "You could tell. They were asking questions like, 'What would you do to win?' and 'What does it feel like to be in a competition?' We even talked about it as a cast. Like that's not what we're about."
Just the physical presence of the cameras altered the reality in this reality show. "The cameras not gonna lie were actually pretty annoying," Lambert said. "People felt like the cameras were getting in their way."
But the experience was worth the inconvenience. Morely, who's enrolled in the University of Utah's musical theater program, and Lambert, who's now in Brigham Young University's music-dance-theater program, both came out of the Jimmys feeling inspired. But not inspired to follow the same path.
"Eye-opening," is how Morely summarized the experience. "I'm not sure Broadway is where I want to end up because it's such a grueling, 10-year commitment just to try to make it," she said. "I just don't know if that's the life I'm ready to live a full New York, starving-artist thing. But I know I'm pursuing performing. Next target would be Utah Shakespeare festival. That's been the dream for a long time."
But for Lambert, the Jimmys made him more determined to see his name up in lights.
"Had I not had this experience, I would have been, like, 'There's no way I'm going to be able to make it in this business,' " he said. "I'd talk myself out of it, and I'd end up settling for something that I wouldn't really enjoy doing. But after this experience, I really want to do this."
'Broadway or Bust'
The three-part series airs at 7 p.m. on consecutive Sundays Sept. 9, 16 and 23 on KUED-Channel 7.