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New Mexico High School Musical Theatre Awards

New Mexico High School Musical Theatre Awards

By Stephanie Hainsfurther

Anyone who has been onstage, backstage, or in the audience at a high school musical knows that participation breeds self confidence, a sense of collaboration and school pride. Thanks to the folks at Popejoy Hall (popejoypresents.com), those students, their directors, and the shows they produce will be recognized for their achievements at the second New Mexico High School Musical Theatre Awards on Sunday May 14 at 6:30pm.

“This is like a Tony Awards show for these students but with live judging included,” said Terry Davis, the show’s producer and longtime marketing manager for Popejoy. “They are so excited to be in this show, so excited to be on the Popejoy stage. And their performances reflect that.”

The public is invited to attend these top-notch performances. Tickets are available at unmtickets.com. Prices are $40 for support seats, $25 general public, and $10 for students. Group prices are available.

“We hope many people come,” Davis said. “I tell people that last year, when walking into the theater, you could feel the electricity in the room. It was so palpable. Then the curtain went up and it only got more electric as the night went on.”

He estimates that between 600-700 students and teachers from 11 schools participated in the program this year. Three judges with knowledge of, training in, or experience of musical theater evaluated the productions and individual performances throughout the year and scored them.

“Those scores determine the winners of our production awards—Best Production, Best Direction, Best Ensemble—and we take the top ten scoring males and top ten scoring females as our nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress,” he said.

jimmy awards winner

Photo Credit: Frank Frost Photography
Caption: Devon McCleskey, as King Arthur, center, sings “I’m All Alone” from Spamalot, a reprise of his performance from his high school production at Los Alamos High School. The performance was part of an extended medley of songs sung in character by all the nominees for the Popejoy Award for Best Actor. The ten female nominees sang a similar medley. McCleskey won the Popejoy Award for Best Actor. He and Joliana Davidson went to New York to participate in the Jimmy Awards on Broadway, where McCleskey won the Jimmy Award for Best Performance in an Ensemble.

The five award categories are: Best Production, Best Direction, Best Ensemble, Best Actor and Best Actress. Other categories may be added in future.

The New Mexico High School Musical Theatre Awards is one of about 35 regional programs associated with The National High School Musical Theatre Awards. The awards ceremony is called The Jimmy Awards, named for James M. Nederlander, the late Broadway theater owner and producer (jimmyawards.com). 

There must be a Broadway League member sponsor for any regional program associated with The Jimmy Awards, and Popejoy is the only Broadway League member in the state.

“Last year the process was begun within Popejoy and we had a very successful first year by many measures. We put on one heck of a show, we taught a lot of kids some new skills, we sent two students to New York, and one of them won a national award,” Davis said. “The hardest part is the finances for this program. It is not easily self-sustaining anywhere in the country.”

“Given the financial circumstances on the UNM campus this year, a new initiative at UNM was a difficult proposition to sustain. Popejoy had to cut the program loose. However, Popejoy offered to maintain the connection to the program if a not-for-profit entity could step in and take the project on. Several of us involved last year felt so strongly about the need for this program that we formed a New Mexico not-for-profit corporation and got our 501(c)3 status from the IRS to make this possible.”

The National High School Musical Theatre Awards were established in 2009. New Mexico’s program was established in 2016. Nationally, about 50,000 students at 1,000 high schools participate.

Featured photo credit:  Frank Frost Photography
Caption:  Joliana Davidson, the 2016 Popejoy Awards Best Actress, points skyward during the opening medley of last year’s awards show, while Daniel Romero, right, points down. Davidson was a freshman at Cibola High School when she won the award. Romero was a junior at Sandia Preparatory School.

—Stephanie Hainsfurther publishes Elbow Room Magazine.