Thursday night I was privileged to be invited to the fifth anniversary of the Shuler Hensley Awards (Georgia’s High School Musical Theatre Awards) at the beautiful and spacious Cobb Energy Center for the Performing Arts. (Thanks, John!)
In a week that gave us so much tragedy in the news, it was nice to laugh and celebrate with all of the young people, their parents, the judges and patrons. Each year, the kids treat the awards evening like a prom decked out in their finest attire. The energy and excitement from the pre-show red carpet event could light up the building.
The evening is always spectacularly produced and filmed by Atlanta’s own ABC affiliate, WSB-TV. Kudos to Brian Frey for a great job as announcer!
Each of the 47 participating schools sends two young performers to be part of the Schuler Ensemble singers. They learn an opening and closing to the show with one of Atlanta’s best music directors, Michael Fauss. The opening was augmented this year with members from the Atlanta Symphony Youth Orchestra under the baton of Maestro Jere Flint.
Shuler Hensley is always on hand to provide the evening’s comic relief and didn’t disappoint. As the kids opened the show with a song from Wicked, his first entrance high above the stage in a magic bubble provided huge laughs. Comic timing is everything and he certainly has it, but a six foot bubble 30 feet above the stage is an entrance for a comic legend!
It doesn’t hurt either that he invites several of his celebrity friends to send taped messages for the show. This year, several of the students got to ask his buddy, Hugh Jackman a career question. Hugh graciously gave each one an amazing and inspiring answer. What a treat!
The lead actress and lead actor nominees each performed a medley from the shows from whence came their nominations. The ladies shined this year! Lead Actress winner McKenzie Kurtz from Milton High School has a long career ahead of her. But first, she and Lead Actor winner, Austin Crute from Greater Atlanta Christian School, will enjoy an all-expenses paid trip to NYC to perform in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. Last year’s awards Jimmy Awards and the exhausting week of rehearsals to prepare were captured and presented as a documentary on PBS.
How I wish we had had an awards ceremony and organization like this in Tennessee when I was growing up. The joy expressed in each of these children’s faces was immeasurable. The whole evening was fun and it celebrated how important the arts are in our educational system. THE ARTS ARE IMPORTANT EVERYWHERE!!!