Celebrating excellence in high school musical theater, the Georgia High School Musical Theater Awards, Shuler Hensley Awards Show, “The Shulers”, takes place this Thursday night, April 18, at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.
The annual awards show, now in its 5th year, recognizes the best musical theater productions and performers from high schools throughout the state. Being nominated is a huge honor for these young actors because this is the most prestigious show of its kind in the state and winning best actor or actress here can lead to a national awards show in New York.
Awards are given in 16 different categories and, like the Tony Awards that recognize theatrical excellence on Broadway, there are acting and production categories. More than 47 schools from all over Georgia have received nominations in one or more of the categories.
Out of the highest regard for the young actors and actresses who participated in their high school productions, and as a reward for those nominated, the “Tony Awards – style” show is produced to an incredibly high standard and the show itself will be televised live on Thursday night on ME-TV, WSB-TV’s digital channel. Jovita Moore and Fred Blankenship, Channel 2 news anchors will act as co-hosts.
I had the chance to speak with Shuler Hensley, Tony-award winning actor and singer about the awards. Hensley, born and raised in Marietta, is one of the nation’s leading actors in musical theatre. He won a Tony and its British equivalent, the Olivier, for his role as Jud in the 2002 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein “Oklahoma”.
Hensley has been involved since the Awards evening’s inception. Mindful of just how influential a local prominent actor could be in garnering support for the program he immersed himself in the program and still does, regularly participating in planning and production meetings and taking a lead role on the night itself.
Hensley takes considerable pride of ownership in the awards that bear his name and is constantly amazed at the talented high school students the awards recognize each year, “I am very glad that I’m not a high school teenager trying to make it in musical theatre now, everyone is so good.”
As further testimony to that fact Hensley proudly recognized the student who went from these awards to NYU with a $50,000 scholarship.
Involvement in the show is a guilty pleasure for Hensley who readily acknowledges that the students wide-eyed enthusiasm is infectious.
“I have to admit, it [the show] completely re-ignites my fire…I am ultra focused and ultra-inspired because of the time I hang around these kids…I would never have imagined it growing up but with shows like Glee and Smash the whole high school musical theatre community has really exploded and gives kids the chance to participate without feeling they’re outsiders.”
Participating in a show like this is an incredible experience for the students. One of the major benefits to the students is the opportunity to work with all the “top notch” people; the Musical Director, the Choreographer, and everyone else who counsels and guides the students “on such a professional level” encouraging them to continue their improvement.
Those top-notch people include the Director of the Awards Show, Courtney Reed. Ms. Reed is directing her third GHSMTA this year. She has been involved in a large number of regional productions and has done television work for Saturday Night Live, NBC Today Show, NBC Nightly News, and the Sydney Summer Olympics.
After beginning his career as a Stage Manager in theatre production in Cincinnati, the shows producer, Craig McMahon moved into television production and won the first of his 12 Emmy Awards while moonlighting as a University student. He has extensive experience with Turner Broadcasting as a Director with its various networks
Michael Fauss is the Music Director and most notable amongst his more than 50 productions that he has worked on all over the world are the four original musicals he worked while in London and the Operatic tours in Europe for which he has also been credited.
Atlanta native Leigh-Ann Shaw Cannady has been involved in the Atlanta theatre at a variety of levels and at The Shulers she will act as an Arranger and Vocal Coach.
Meg Gillentine, most recently seen in Atlanta in The Fabulous Fox Theatre’s production of The Producers will be the Choreographer for the show. She has innumerable Broadway credits including Fosse, the Musical about the legendary Broadway choreographer, Bob Fosse. Winner of the Helen Hayes award for best leading actress in a musical she regularly leads master classes for theatrical students of all ages.
Familiar to Atlanta’s television audiences, the hosts of the Awards Show will be Jovita Moore and Fred Blankenship. Currently new anchors at WSB Channel 2, Moore and Blankenship have several Emmy Awards between them.
Like Shuler Hensley, all the people involved with the production of this event do so because they love the arts and this particular program and they want to give something back to the theatre. Working The Shulers is one more way they give back to their community providing on-going guidance and mentoring to students throughout the metro area.
The show has such incredible positive energy. Hensley loves to roam around backstage with a camera before the show capturing the stage nerves that quickly transition into a musical theatre rock concert once the curtain goes up.
The Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards Show is one way in which a group of talented actors and producers can give back to the profession and art they love. Shuler Hensley is one such example. The joy he gets in being a part of this is very apparent very quickly. On Thursday night the passion he and his colleagues have for the theatre will become evident once again in the performances of a new group of talented students. Not only do the top-notch professionals help the students but the students reinvigorate the professionals and conitnue to inspire them.