There are stage lights. There's silence broken when a rapt audience bursts into cheers. And there's music – so much music – as students from Charlotte-area high schools show the world they can be Broadway stars.
The coronavirus pandemic has canceled essentially all major gatherings, and it didn't spare the beloved Blumey Awards, an annual event at the Belk Theater that recognizes musical theater talent in local high schools. The event, put on by Blumenthal Performing Arts, has even been a springboard for some budding stars, like Eva Noblezada and Renee Rapp, who now appear in Broadway productions.
But all is not lost.
Amy Burkett is general manager at PBS Charlotte. She's been involved with the program – sometimes as an emcee, sometimes backstage – since 2016. The student-performers always support each other, Burkett said. Their faces light up seeing their peers on stage, and even the performers who don't win are full of hope.
"When they don't win, they're like, 'We'll be back next year. Next year's my senior year – that'll be my year,'" Burkett said. "Those soundbites swirled in my head when it had to get canceled, and I could see their faces."
After all, Burkett says, it's hard to describe just how big of a deal the show is to the kids who perform and their families.
"It's their version of the state championships for the football kids and the basketball kids," Burkett said. "This is their moment. This is their Heisman trophy for the theater kids, who are so talented. And, unfortunately, this year, it didn't get to be the way any of us wanted."
So, folks at PBS Charlotte and Blumenthal Performing Arts had an idea: What if, without packing hundreds of people into a crowded theater during a health crisis, there was still a way to honor the kids who'd been working so hard?
Fortunately, the pieces were all still there: A stage, a TV crew, performers, choreographers and funding. So, they got the ball rolling on a tribute, called A Blumey Awards Salute, that will air Tuesday night on PBS Charlotte.
Nobody gets any awards, and everything's pre-recorded, but Burkett says producers have done all they can to bring the spirit of the event into a social distance-appropriate, safe format. A skeleton crew filmed at an empty Belk theater, and there will be some flashbacks from years past to show just how much energy the Blumeys typically ignite.
Some of the numbers folks can watch on Tuesday are from performances over the last four years. In other cases, students and schools submitted new ones that were recorded — some on Zoom and others that were taped during rehearsals before COVID-19 shutdowns began.
Among the highlights: Zoom-ified performances of Abba's "Waterloo" by students from South Pointe High and "A Bushel and A Peck" from "Guys and Dolls" by kids from cfa Academy.
And there'll be a bit of familiarity for longtime Blumey fans, too. Broadway composer David Dabbon worked with students and a choreographer to come up with a video version of the show's typical closing number, "Don't Be Surprised," that includes interviews with students from all of the participating high schools.
"We recorded Zoom interviews with the students and then edited it all together in one beautiful number that ... has two students from each of the 47 high schools in it," Burkett said.
The one-hour special airs Tuesday, May 12, at 8 p.m. on PBS Charlotte/WTVI.
Oh, and there's one more thing: Organizers didn't want the evening of May 17 – when the Blumey Awards had been scheduled – to fade into the sunset without a little flare.
"We're going to do a watch party for the students," Burkett said, "so there's at least something happening at that time when they all would have been in the Belk Theater."
It will, of course, be digital.
This story originally appeared in our weekly arts and entertainment newsletter, Tapestry. Subscribe here.