62 high school students hopeful of a musical crown
In this Thursday, June 27, 2013, photo, Anthony Nappier of Los Angeles practices singing “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon” in New York City, ahead of the National High School Musical Theater Awards on Monday, July 1. Nappier is one of 62 students from across the nation competing for the contest’s top prizes and scholarship money. (AP Photo/Mark Kennedy)
NEW YORK (AP) — In a steaming, stuffy classroom downtown, it was time for some talented youngsters to face the music.
Half a dozen high school students from across the country were being critiqued on their singing and performance skills by a coach helping them prepare for the National High School Musical Theater Awards on Monday night.
One student from California was warned to perform "I Believe" from "The Book of Mormon" without an ounce of smirk. A teen from Utah was advised not to overthink a Stephen Sondheim lyric. And when a Colorado student wanted advice on whether she was better off singing a serious song from "Aida" or a funny one from "Cinderella," she was asked to sing both. The funny one came out on top.
"That's the one," said the coach, Tony Award-nominee Liz Callaway, whose Broadway credits include "Miss Saigon" and "Baby." The student, Nicole Seefried, seemed convinced — and relieved. "It is," she said, happily.
The teens were among 62 hoping to be crowned top actor and top actress at this year's contest. Now in its fifth year, the National High School Musical Theater Awards will be held Monday at the Minskoff Theatre, the long-term home of "The Lion King."
The 62 teens who made it to New York — 31 girls and 31 boys — get a five-day theatrical boot camp at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, complete with scrambling to learn an opening and closing group number, intense advice on their solo songs, plus a field trip to watch "Annie" on Broadway and dinner at famed theater-district hangout Sardi's. It's not all glamorous, though. Hours are spent in plain classrooms on plastic chairs, with battered pianos and bottles of water.
"It's an experience that's going to stay with them for the rest of their lives," said Van Kaplan, president of the awards organization and the show's director.
Both top winners will receive a scholarship award, capping a monthslong winnowing process that began with 50,000 students from 1,000 schools. This year's contestants come from 20 states: Georgia, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Illinois, Texas, Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Nevada, Utah, Wisconsin, Tennessee, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Florida and Kansas.
On Monday night, all 62 will perform snippets of the songs that they sung at regional competitions as part of several large medleys, and then six finalists — three boys and three girls — will be plucked to sing solos. The winners will be picked from the last six.
Kyle Selig, 20, of Long Beach, Calif., won the best actor award in 2010 and is now a student at Carnegie Mellon University. He returned to help out this year and managed to cram in a few auditions to Broadway shows, including "The Book of Mormon."
"It was a validation of what I should be doing," he said of his win.
In addition to Callaway, the tutors included theater pros Leslie Odom Jr., Michael McElroy and Telly Leung. The judges on Monday will include Tony-winning director Scott Ellis, Tony nominee Montego Glover and casting professional Bernie Telsey. The hosts will be Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, who co-star in "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella."