By Matt Cosper
May 8, 2020
Among the many local events cancelled in the Covid-19 crisis, one was a particularly major blow to local musical theatre fanatics: the Blumey Awards. Presented by Blumenthal Performing Arts, The Blumeys are an annual celebration of high school musical theatre from around the Charlotte region. Winners at the Blumeys go on to participate and compete at the national level at the Jimmy Awards on Broadway. It’s a big deal for young local lovers of the stage and has gained a huge following since it began in 2011. Anyone who has been to the event can attest to two things: the breadth of talent in our region and the overwhelming energy that fills the Belk Theatre during the show. We’re talking thousands of screaming teenagers.
Just as overwhelming was the surge of disappointment that flooded the local youth theatre scene when Blumenthal President Tom Gabbard made the call to cancel this year’s program. With schools around the region cancelling productions and moving to remote learning, and the Jimmy Awards cancelling in the wake of the medical disaster unfolding in New York, it was inevitable that the Blumeys would be next. But the theatre is a collaborative art form and this is where that spirit of collaboration kicked in.
PBS Charlotte and Wells Fargo, who have televised and sponsored the Blumey Awards for years, put their heads together with Blumenthal staff. PBS Charlotte general manager Amy Burkett works closely with the Blumeys each year in her role at the TV station but she also performs onstage as one of the award show’s hosts. “They got robbed a little bit. These kids aren’t getting to have their senior proms, or maybe even their graduations,” she said. “We just wanted to put something together to recognize them. I only hope it has the impact that my heart wants it to have, because they are special.”
So on May 12 at 8 p.m., local audiences can tune in to PBS to watch A Blumey Awards Salute: Performances From Yesterday & Today. The show will feature performances from past Blumey Awards shows as well as videos from students who would have been part of this year’s awards, had things gone differently. Local choreographer Linda Booth and NYC based music director David Dabbon have been working remotely with over 60 students on a virtual version of the show’s traditional closing number (written by Dabbon), “Don’t Be Surprised.”
For Burkett, the Blumeys are a highlight of the year. Remarking on the infectious joy of the students and the sense of community the program fosters she noted: “Watching their support of each other, from different schools, wishing each other well, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen.”
This unifying effect is a common theme in conversations about the Blumeys. Dabbon, who has been music director for the show since day one, remarked on the growth of the program and how it has become about something bigger than just musical theatre: “It’s very much about the students and their communities individually. It’s not just about what happens up on that stage. I think that’s the reason that the Blumeys are so joyous and so successful.”
Dabbon, a Carnegie Mellon trained conductor and composer whose recent work includes Beetlejuice the Musical and Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, also commented on the cross pollination the program encourages: “Schools are taking risks and doing shows that haven’t been done. Shows that get more students involved. It’s been great to see schools ask ‘what shows are our students going to get the most out of?’
The disruption of so many students’ school lives, including many of their last moments in the spotlight, is one among many disappointments from the spring of 2020. But to see local organizations like PBS and Blumenthal commit to honoring our students is a welcome bright spot. The theatre has always been about catharsis, and that emotional release is ultimately a celebration of the human experience. That’s what makes the youthful energy of the Blumeys so vibrant and appealing.
A Blumey Awards Salute: Performances From Yesterday & Today will broadcast live on May 12, 2020 at 8 p.m. on PBS Charlotte. Watch a special preview of South Pointe High School’s quarantined cast performing “Waterloo” from Mamma Mia!.