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They won Blumey theater awards in Charlotte in high school. But where are they now?

2018 Blumey nominees got ready like this...

A time-lapse look at rehearsal for the 2018 Blumeys, courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts.
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A time-lapse look at rehearsal for the 2018 Blumeys, courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts.

Blood, sweat, tears. The young nominees for the annual Blumenthal Performing Arts High School Musical Theater Awards — or Blumeys — leave it all on the stage at the Charlotte-area competition that celebrates the best of high school musical theater.

But while the black-tie ceremony may be the height of its nominees’ youthful careers, its real success lies in what it inspires participants to do next.

Nominees spend a week in Charlotte working alongside professional directors, choreographers and orchestrators in preparation for their big night. Best Actor and Best Actress winners head to New York City to compete at The National High School Musical Theater Awards, also known as The Jimmy Awards.

The 2019 Blumey Awards take place May 19, but before then let’s catch up on a few winners from years past:

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Eva Noblezada participated in the 73rd annual Tony Awards “Meet the Nominees” press day in New York on May 1. She was nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Eurydice in “Hadestown.” Charles Sykes Invision/AP

Northwest School of the Arts’ Eva Noblezada won a Blumey for Best Actress in 2013. Success followed quickly: Her solo at the Jimmy Awards landed her an audition and she was cast as Kim in the West End revival of “Miss Saigon,” which went to Broadway. Noblezada earned a Tony nomination for Best Actress in 2017.

She’s currently starring as Eurydice in the Broadway production of “Hadestown.” The musical tells the story of two classic myths — young dreamers Orpheus and Eurydice, and King Hades and his wife Persephone — during a journey into the underworld and back. Last month, Noblezada earned a Tony nomination for that role, as well. In fact, “Hadestown” led all shows with 14 nominations The Tony Awards are held on June 9.

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Northwest School of the Arts grad Abby Corrigan played Medium Alison in the 2017 national tour of “Fun Home.” Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Abby Corrigan continued the Best Actress streak for Northwest School of the Arts, taking home the Blumey in 2014 for her portrayal of Princess Fiona in “Shrek: The Musical.” Since then, Corrigan has performed in more than 20 theater and broadcast productions, including recently in an Off-Broadway production of “Usual Girls” at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. Her principle role as Medium Alison in the 2017 national tour of “Fun Home” brought her full-circle to Charlotte during a run at the Blumenthal.

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Mekhai Lee is now a professional actor working off Broadway in New York City. He won a Blumey Best Actor award 2014 for his role as Shrek in “Shrek: The Musical” at Northwest School of the Arts. Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Mekhai Lee joined his castmate Corrigan, winning Best Actor in 2014 for his turn as Shrek in “Shrek: The Musical.” He’s now a professional actor working off Broadway in New York City. He counts among his greatest memories spending a week working with high school peers in the arts. Lee won the Mary Doctor Performing Arts Scholarship, a renewable grant of $10,000 awarded to two Blumey nominees a year, and attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

And it was just announced that Lee will join the ensemble of the upcoming 10th anniversary, Off-Broadway production of “Rock of Ages.”

“Winning a Blumey was surreal in the moment,” Lee said. “I was proud of the work my school put in to our show. Winning my scholarship allowed me to pursue my dream at my conservatory. I would not have attended college if not for the Blumey awards.”

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Anna Hertel won her Blumey in 2017. She’s studying musical theater at Elon University and will spend this summer with the Lexington Theatre Company as Graziella in “West Side Story” and a bowery beauty/ensemble in “Newsies.” Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Anna Hertel was 17 when she won the Best Actress Blumey for Ardrey Kell High School’s production of “Chicago” in 2017. The rising sophomore and musical theater major at Elon University will be spending this summer with the Lexington Theatre Company as Graziella in “West Side Story” and as a bowery beauty/ensemble in “Newsies.”

“I could not be more excited to work with such a stellar equity theater company alongside today’s Broadway stars,” Hertel said.

Her favorite memories of the Blumeys were seeing the curtain rise on opening night and feeling the rush of the crowd’s cheers. But that memory is closely rivaled by the experiences of connecting with students who shared the same passion, and working alongside top industry professionals for “one magical week.”

“Winning made me feel affirmed and validated since this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. It gave me hope that my dream could come true. I enjoyed winning, but my biggest thrill was getting the opportunity to share the stage with such immense talent and getting endless encouragement from the people and businesses of Charlotte who support the arts,” Hertel said. “I knew when I won that, without a doubt, I was going to follow my dreams and major in musical theater in college and shoot for Broadway.”

Blumenthal Performing Arts President Tom Gabbard with 2018 Blumey winners Ethan Holtzman and Reneé Rapp. Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

For Reneé Rapp, 2018 was a very good year. She won the Best Actress Blumey for her portrayal of Sandra in Northwest School of the Arts’ production of “Big Fish,” then went on to a victory at the Jimmys, taking home accolades for Best Performance by an Actress.

She is now an actor and recording artist living in New York City.

“(The Blumeys) completely changed my path. I thought I was going to go to college and wasn’t sure that I would ever pursue theater. But after the Blumeys came the Jimmys, and shortly after that I had an agent and was getting work in New York,” she said.

Training under composer and Grammy-nominated orchestrator David Dabbon and acclaimed Charlotte-based choreographer Linda Booth was her most impactful Blumeys experience. She also credits Northwest director Corey Mitchell with much of her trajectory.

“He is a large part of why I am where I am today,” Rapp said. “Winning the Blumey Award meant the world because of what it meant for the people around me. Being able to represent my director and our cast, and honor all of our work by receiving the award was truly the win.”

Ethan Holtzman of Charlotte Latin School won Best Actor in 2018, but he felt the influence of the Blumeys long before.

“My best memory from the Blumeys was from before I was even in them. In 7th grade, I watched Areon Mobasher, a senior from my school at the time, win the Best Actor award as I sat all the way in the back of the theater,” Holtzman said. “While he didn’t even know me, seeing someone who I looked up to so much sparked an inspiration and motivation within me that made me want to pursue acting. Five years later, I got to look up to the highest balcony from the stage, hoping someone was up there who I would inspire too.”

He just completed his freshman year studying theater and performance at Emerson College in Boston and is preparing for a summer internship with The Flea, a nonprofit theater company in New York City.

“Winning the Blumey Award meant that I got to thank both my mom and sister in front of a sold-out theater and on television. It validated and celebrated the hard work of student artists and their directors which meant, and continues to mean, the world to me.”

He called going to the Jimmy Awards — an all-expenses-paid trip later that summer — and performing on Broadway a dream come true.

“It proved to me that creative young people can do anything they dream of. I’m 110 percent certain we’re going to change the world. The world needs artistic and empathetic kids who know how to collaborate,” Holtzman said. “We’re here and we’re ready to make a difference.”

Areon Mobasher was 17 in 2013 when he took home the Best Actor Blumey for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables” at Charlotte Latin. He continues to act with professional and community theater companies in the Research Triangle area and works for Discover Durham doing graphic design, photography and videography. Courtesy of Blumenthal Performing Arts

Areon Mobasher was 17 in 2013, when he took home the Best Actor Blumey for his portrayal of Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables.” He had no idea he was inspiring a future Charlotte Latin School alumnus. In fact, he barely knew what he was doing at all.

“I had never been in a play or musical before that,” Mobasher said. “Theater was such a new and foreign medium for me and I had no idea what to expect from all of it. I was just happy to be involved. But winning the Blumey happened right when I caught the bug, and I think in that moment — and the weeks that followed — I realized, ‘Oh, maybe this is something I can keep doing.’ It was a newfound sense of joy that I hadn’t tapped into before, and something I was able to continue chasing as I grew as an artist and person overall.”

Mobasher currently does graphic design, photography and videography for Discover Durham, the city of Durham’s destination marketing organization. He continues to act with professional and community theater companies throughout the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area and produces music.

He said the Blumeys and the Jimmys were “illuminating.”

“They set a standard for me in terms of professionalism and the immense scale of theater as an art form. I had never been to New York before, I had never seen a Broadway show before, and I certainly hadn’t worked with Broadway directors, producers, choreographers, and actors before. This set the stage — pun absolutely intended — for how I treated the audition, rehearsal and performance processes for shows I did when I moved to Raleigh for school,” he said.

“Of course, having something like the Blumey and Jimmy Awards on my resume didn’t hurt, and it certainly helped get my foot in the door in some cases. But I truly think its ultimate impact was that it primed me for professionalism,” Mobasher said. “I don’t think I would have gotten the roles I have in the companies I’ve worked with these past six years had I not experienced the Blumeys.”

Mobasher’s favorite memory of the Blumeys is the amount of support and solidarity he was shown by fellow nominees.

“We all got along so well in such a short amount of time together, and I felt no real sense of competition among us. We were there to celebrate our work and that of our peers. And although I felt a load of pressure because that was my first year doing the Blumeys and theater in general, I felt nothing but love from and for the people I was up against,” he said. “It was such a wholesome feeling of camaraderie, from start to finish. I think the Blumeys really enable that kind of environment for its participants, which is so important.”

Previous Blumey Winners

Here are all of the previous winners for Best Actor and Actress:

  • 2018: Reneé Rapp (Northwest School of the Arts) and Ethan Holtzman (Charlotte Latin)

  • 2017: Anna Hertel (Ardrey Kell High) and Justin Rivers (Central Academy of Technology and Arts)

  • 2016: Amina Faye (Central Academy) and Justin Rivers (Central Academy)
  • 2015: Lauren Hunkele (Northwest Cabarrus High) and Justin Norwood (South Pointe High)
  • 2014: Abby Corrigan (Northwest) and Mekhai Lee (Northwest)
  • 2013: Eva Noblezada (Northwest) and Areon Mobasher (Charlotte Latin)
  • 2012: Taylor Neal (Cuthbertson High) and Kyle Conroy (Jay M. Robinson High)

2019 Blumey Awards

What: Blumey Awards Ceremony

When: 7 p.m. May 19

Where: Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St.

Tickets: The event is sold out. But there is a free viewing party at McGlohon Theater in Spirit Square, 345 N. College St.

Streaming: The opening and closing numbers will be streamed live on Blumenthal Art’s Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/NCBPAC.

On TV: The Blumeys will air on local PBS station WTVI on these dates: May 28, 8 p.m., May 30, 9 p.m., June 22, 6 p.m. and June 23, 2 p.m.

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