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The Blumey Awards Are Back -- With A Twist

Blumenthal Performing Arts
Here's a scene from the 2019 Blumey Awards. The 2020 show has been canceled, but a tribute is airing.

For the past eight years, high school theater students have showed off their talent to sold-out audiences during the Blumey Awards at the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, this year's production can't be held.

The annual show has proved to be a springboard for award winners who get to perform in New York City, with several going on to land roles on Broadway. So to keep the essence of the Blumeys alive, a different version of the awards show will air on PBS Charlotte Tuesday at 8 p.m. Blumenthal's president Tom Gabbard explains how this year's Blumey awards tribute came together. 

[Related: The Show Must Go On -- Kinda. Blumey Awards 'Salute' Airs Tuesday]

Tom Gabbard: Well, I want to give credit to Amy Burkett, the CEO and general manager at PBS Charlotte. She had the brilliant idea to look at gathering footage from past years and then creating some new content, viral content that we've worked with current students to gather ... their performances and put it together as a special to salute our kids particularly. You know, we want to recognize our kids right now who have not had this experience. Many of them are seniors. They look forward to it. And so it was a great opportunity to acknowledge them as well as our kids from the past. 

Gwendolyn Glenn: So, she went through all of the tapes and this was tape probably that they had been filming as they were preparing for various productions, I take it?

Gabbard: Right. Plus, they had footage from past years, past performances, but then we actually created some original content. Our music director worked with an editor in New York to record performances using Zoom to record those and edit to put them together as one of these kind of viral choruses. 

Glenn: Let’s talk about the Blumeys. How important are they to students, especially those who want to go on to pursue a professional career in theater?

Gabbard: It has quite a remarkable track record. And part of why we began the Blumeys was that our kids could qualify to perform in New York as a part of the National High School Musical Theater Awards. And so in just eight short years, our kids have done incredibly well through that. We now have three of our Blumey alums who are actually starring in Broadway shows, Eva Noblezada, and she actually was nominated for her second Tony Award for Best Musical. Renee Rapp is starring in "Mean Girls." Nkeki Obi-Melekwe is the alternate starring in "Tina," a musical about Tina Turner.

Glenn: OK. Now let's go back a bit and talk about when these students were in the local Blumeys and what awards would be given out and then what would happen after that to get to New York and explain that process?

Gabbard: The winners of best actor and best actress qualify then for us to take them to New York and perform in the Jimmy Awards, which is a national high school musical theater awards. And those are programs like the Blumeys from all across America that send their award winners. They spend a week rehearsing and getting coaching. They get access to incredible creative talent and coaching during the week at NYU. And then it culminates in a performance on the stage of The Minskoff Theatre, which is where "The Lion King" plays in New York City. And so from that, some finalists are selected and it works its way down to selecting a best actor and best actress. But there are also other awards given. We've had one Charlotte Blumey alum Anna Hertel, who won best dancer. So there are other awards they can win. There’s scholarships, but it does put them in front of a powerhouse group of casting agents and New York pros that, you know, definitely has been a part of why our kids have been able to go on to other new opportunities.

Glenn: And about how many people would turn out for this when it was live here in Charlotte?

Gabbard: Oh, it was sold out every year. And then, of course, we would have people watching on WTVI. But it was always a sell out at the Belk Theater, which is like 2100 seats. 

Glenn: And the finale, you say, that is performed every year. Tell us about that.

Gabbard: It's an original song that our music director, David Dabbon wrote for us before we did our very first Blumeys and he had the brilliant idea to have an original song that everybody would come to know and love and would be done every year. And certainly for the alums that they carry that in their heart. 

Glenn: Well, thanks so much for talking with us about the show, which will be on tonight at 8 p.m.

Gabbard: Thank you. 

Gwendolyn is an award-winning journalist who has covered a broad range of stories on the local and national levels. Her experience includes producing on-air reports for National Public Radio and she worked full-time as a producer for NPR’s All Things Considered news program for five years. She worked for several years as an on-air contract reporter for CNN in Atlanta and worked in print as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun Media Group, The Washington Post and covered Congress and various federal agencies for the Daily Environment Report and Real Estate Finance Today. Glenn has won awards for her reports from the Maryland-DC-Delaware Press Association, SNA and the first-place radio award from the National Association of Black Journalists.