High schools compete for new Blumeys

Students supply the sweat equity and talent. Blumenthal Performing Arts supplies the venue and expertise. Wells Fargo and the Doctor Family Foundation supply the cash.

That's the recipe for the inaugural Blumey Awards, which will take place May 20 at Belk Theater.

Charlotte thus joins the circuit of more than 30 cities offering a high school version of the Tony Awards, honoring young talent in the region.

The stakes for winners are high. One senior boy and girl will each win $10,000 college scholarships, renewable annually, from the Doctor Family Foundation, whether they become theater majors or not. And the best actress and best actor winners will perform at the National High School Musical Theater Awards in June, during a one-week, all-expenses-paid trip to New York.

Blumenthal president Tom Gabbard got the idea by attending the 2008 awards. (They're called the Jimmys to honor theater impresario James Nederlander, one of his mentors.)

Charlotte wasn't sending students. So Gabbard and his education staff observed regional awards in other cities, imported talent from places that ran successful Jimmys-type shows - an arranger/conductor from Pittsburgh, a stage manager from Atlanta - and received a grant from Wells Fargo that covered the cost of staging the awards, which include a professional orchestra in the Belk pit.

Judges attended productions at 21 high schools from the 16-county region the Blumenthal serves. They voted in 13 categories, from best musical to best lighting execution. The public will find out the results in May, when six ensemble finalists for best musical perform and six finalists for best actor and actress sing medleys

"It was important to level the playing field, so schools with lavish means didn't have a big economic advantage," Gabbard said. "Fifty percent of the sets and costumes competing in those categories had to be done by students."

Except for onstage performers, the Blumeys (like the Jimmys) will have a professional gloss, from the choreographer designing the medleys to the musicians. (Many will be locals hired by tours in the Broadway Lights series.)

"I realize we'll have to set aside a good deal of seating for the students who are performing, but we think the general public will come out, too," Gabbard said. "Over time, we think interest in this will really grow."