Monthly Archives: June 2016

Don’t Actually Break a Leg!

We have all experienced a live show gone wrong. Whether you were on stage or in the audience, those moments stick with you forever and help make live theatre a different experience for each person. We have compiled a list of Broadway Stars sharing their most embarrassing moments. Read theirs and share yours! Did you see a performance go wrong? Were you a part of a performance in which people forgot their lines, had a wardrobe malfunction or fell? We want to hear your stories.


Jessica Chastain and Dan Stevens in “The Heiress”

Jessica Chastain on her mortifying moment in Heiress on Broadway
“When I was doing The Heiress on Broadway, my dog hopped onstage during the middle of a very dramatic scene. I was acting and I heard this jingling noise because my dog was hopping. He only has three legs. I heard jingle, jingle, jingle. I knew immediately. And I thought, oh my god, he’s out of the dressing room, someone catch him please. I have to say my lines. I heard people in the audience gasp, and then ‘whisper, whisper, whisper.’ I delivered the first part of my line and walked off the stage because I knew my dog would follow me. He hopped off with me, I picked him up and handed him to someone. Then I went back onstage and finished my line.”

Erin Davie on being betrayed by the sound man in The Phantom of the Opera
“I was doing the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber right out of college. And I sang The Phantom of the Opera. And even on Broadway the end of the title song is pre-recorded because Christine has to sing a high “E.” I think they make it easy on the ladies. So in my show, just at the very end of the song, I was singing to my own voice that was pre-recorded. Then the sound man turned the sound off and we started to take our bows. But when I was in mid-bow, my voice came back on. So it seemed like I hadn’t sung any of it. It was a quick blip. But at the time I was horrified. I wanted to say, ‘But it was ME! I swear I DID sing that!’”


Emily Padgett and Erin Davie play the conjoined twins of “Side Show”

Emily Padgett on the perils of over-hydrating in Side Show
“During [Side Show] we don’t have any bathroom breaks at all. At the top of the show we don’t get a break until intermission. So we try to keep our voice really hydrated. But there was one day when I drank too much water and during “Who Will Love Me As I Am,” [a particularly dramatic song], I was in so much pain, I really thought it was going to happen. But I made it and it didn’t, but that was the worst. It was awful. And now I can’t drink that much water before the show.”


Billy Porter in “Kinky Boots”

Billy Porter on when his Kinky Boots fought back
“I ripped the heel off of my blue stacked stiletto boot on the way down the stairs into the factory of Kinky Boots. My heel was dangling underfoot as I tried singing “The Sex Is In The Heel” with a straight face.”


Nina Arianda accepts her Tony Award

Nina Arianda on showing too much in The King and I
“A long, long time ago, I was dancing in [a community production of] The King and I. At the end of a dance number, when I got to the final pose, my pants fell down around my ankles. I was wearing one of those diaper looking Samurai deals underneath. I don’t know why. It was the late 1990s. So I dropped trou not even wanting to. Everyone was laughing. But as they say, you have to fake it ’til you make it. Yes, of course I MEANT to do that right? But what happens when you trip on a sidewalk in New York? Do you make a story out of it? No! You keep walking. It’s all part of life.”

Sutton as Millie

Sutton Foster in “Thoroughly Modern Millie”

Sutton Foster on dropping her drawers on the Great White Way
”I lost my underwear during Thoroughly Modern Millie. I hit my final pose and my underwear fell down. They were like little tap shorts.”


Laura Bell Bundy on right in “Legally Blonde”

Laura Bell Bundy on flipping her lid in Legally Blonde
“During Legally Blonde, I lost my wig about three times. When my wig fell off, I was wearing a wig cap so it looked like I was bald. During those moments I broke the fourth wall and said, ‘Thank you for coming to see Legally Bald.’ That got a big laugh. I’ve also had shoes fly off into the audience. I’ve lost clothes. I’ve almost fallen into the pit. I actually fell off the stage once. When you do something like 800 shows, that’s what happens.”


Judy Kaye and John Travolta in “Grease”

Judy Kaye on a particularly dangerous Hand Jive in Grease
“I’ve had many wardrobe malfunctions in my life. I’ve had to do whole scenes holding my dress together. I remember doing Rizzo in Grease on the road in 1973. We were in Denver and during the Hand Jive the entire dress exploded off my body. I had to dance into the wings and get sewn into it and Hand Jive back onto the stage. See, I’ve been there baby.”


Karen Pittman on far left

Karen Pittman on really wowing her agent in Gem of the Ocean
“I finally found an agent that I really liked and while doing a showcase, the agency showed up to watch me work. My big break!  Well, my scene with Cornelius Smith, Jr (from All My Children) from August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean came up. As we broke apart from a passionate embrace, my hoop skirt fell to my ankles. I stood in front of the entire crowd in my Spanx. I played it off with a dizzying maneuver using a kitchen knife and a chopping board, pulled my skirt up. And as they say in the theatre, the show must go on. Needless to say, the agent was impressed.  He’s my agent to this day. Although, I dunno if it was because of what they saw in my acting —- or what they saw in my Spanx…naughty!”


John Larroquette in “How to Succeed in Business Without Even Trying”

John Larroquette on knocking himself out without really trying
”I knocked myself out while on stage once. I ran across the stage and hit a wall. The audience thought it was hilarious.”


Kelsey Grammer and Matthew Morrison in “Finding Neverland”

Kelsey Grammer on giving his all
”As I lifted [a costar], with my posterior aimed at the audience, I passed gas, in an explosive form.”


Beyond the Stage

Musicals are everywhere! From the Broadway stage to live television broadcasts, musicals have had an amazing resurgence in current pop culture. And every few months or so we all get teased with the possibility of a Wicked movie. There has also been a lot of talk lately about an In The Heights or possibly even a Hamilton movie! While we patiently hold our breath for those projects to happen, here is a list of some of our favorite shows that have gone beyond the stage.



“Greased Lightning” from the 1978 motion picture Grease

This Broadway musical made its debut in 1972. The concept was created over a couple of beers at a party by creators Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey in an effort to go against the grain of “traditional” Broadway shows. The show opened one year later at the Eden Theatre, just off Broadway, but was not the success originally hoped for. Loved by the public but scrutinized by critics the show ultimately was snubbed by the Tony Awards because the Eden Theatre did not qualify as a Broadway Theatre. It wasn’t until 1978 when the smash hit film took the story to the next level. Since then the show has seen numerous revivals, high school productions, and even a live broadcast on Fox.



Grease Live January 31, 2016



Hairspray is the 1988 movie turned Broadway show turned 2007 movie turned upcoming NBC live broadcast! The original 1988 film featuring notable actors such as Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, Ricki Lake, and Jerry Stiller had a modest release at the box office but developed a cult following up its release on home video. (Which is like Blu Ray and DVD release for our younger readers.) In 2002 the Broadway musical debuted staring the ever fierce Harvey Firestein as Edna Turnblad. The show picked up 8 Tony Award wins including Best Musical.


Ricki Lake as Tracy Turnblad in the 1988 motion picture Hairspray.

In 2007 the hunt for the next Tracy was on as the story took to the silver screen once more. This time some script changes were in order and a star studded cast including John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Walken, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah, and Zac Efron came together to break box office records for the biggest opening weekend of a movie musical.

Now we anxiously await for more news about the NBC’s Hairspray Live which has already announced the return of Harvey Firestein as Edna Turnblad as well as Kristin Chenoweth, Jennifer Hudson, Martin Short and newcomer Maddie Baillio.


The Wiz


Cast of the 1978 motion picture The Wiz

The Wiz, Also known by its original name The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical “Wonderful Wizard of Oz, opened on October 21, 1974 in Baltimore. In 1975 the show took to Broadway and racked up 7 Tony Awards including Best Musical and became an early example of Broadway’s mainstream acceptance of works with an all-black cast. In 1978 the film version was released and became an instant cult classic. In December of 2015 NBC broadcasted The Wiz Live featuring Common, Amber Riley, Uzo Aduba, Elijah Kelley, Ne-Yo, Mary J. Blige, and Queen Latifah.




Originally based on a play by the same name the story is a satire on the corruption n the administration of criminal justice and the concept of the “celebrity criminal” With music by John Kander, lyrics and book by Fred Ebb,  choreography by Bob Fosse, this show was set to be a hit. The original production only ran on Broadway for 936 performances until 1977 but it was the revival that gained the momentum. It currently holds the record as the longest running musical revival in American Broadway history.  Now the show has a reputation of casting an on going onslaught of celebrities in its leading roles such as Brandy, Eddie George, Rumer Willis, Patrick Swayze, Usher, Michael C. Hall and many more.

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In 2002 the film, directed by Rob Marshall, pulled together an outstanding cast including Renee Zellweger, Richard Gere, Queen Latifah, Catherine Zeta-Jones to name a few. In 2003 the film scored 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture.


Mamma Mia


This show got started just a bit differently than most. The show opened in London’s West End in 1999. Being completely comprised of songs from the Swedish pop/dance group ABBA, producer Judy Craymer was nervous about how well the show would be received. It wasn’t long before the craze caught on and in 2001 the Mamma Mia opened on Broadway. Since then, the show has has 5,773 performances on Broadway and has played in 40 countries. In September of 2015 Mamma Mia said goodbye to Broadway but continues to tour.


In 2008 the Mamma Mia went from stage to screen. I think we can all agree that Meryl Streep was the best part of this adaptation but was well supported by her cast including Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard and Amanda Seyfried. The movie received mixed reviews from critics and was considered a box office flop but you can’t escape the power of the soundtrack!

Sound of Music


Julie Andrews (Maria) The Sound of Music film

This Rogers and Hammerstein classic opened on Broadway in November of 1959. The story, based on the memoir of Maria von Trapp, earned 9 Tony nominations and 5 Tony wins including Best Musical. Sadly this would be the last musical written by the Rogers and Hammerstein team as Oscar Hammerstein died only nine months after the Broadway premiere. In 1965 the film starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer would walk away with five Academy Awards.


Mary Martin in the original Broadway production.

In 2013 the resurgence of the live television musical event was brought back to life with NBC’s Sound of Music Live. While critics thought Carrie Underwood’s performance was amateur at best the ratings sang a different tune. The Sound of Music Live brought the network its highest Thursday night viewership since the series finale of Frasier in 2004 with 18.62 million viewers.



The Rocky Horror Show


Not many people know that The Rocky Horror Show made its U.S. debut in Los Angeles at the Roxy Theatre in 1974 before heading to Broadway in 1975. It only lasted three previews and forty five showings despite earning one Tony nomination. It wasn’t until the 1975 film, staring Tim Curry as everyone’s favorite sweet transvestite, and re-dubbed as the Rocky Horror Picture Show that things really took off. The Rocky Horror Picture Show holds the record for the longest-running release in film history.

And to top things off this Halloween Fox plans to release a reboot! Stars include Laverne Cox as Frank N. Furter, Christina Milian, Adam Lambert and more. Check out the trailer below.


What Broadway show do you want to see as a movie or T.V. special?

Carole King Like You Never Knew Her

In preparation for our upcoming engagement of Beautiful the Carole King Musical, we thought we would share some interesting facts about Carole King. Did you know Carole King has written over 100 pop hits? She may not have lent her voice to all of them, but King has written or co-written more hits than we can count on our fingers and toes. We will sprinkle some of those famous songs throughout this blog among all of the other really cool facts about her.

She had her first #1 hit at age 18. Carole King co-wrote “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles when you were still struggling over what to major in in college.

Her birth name is Carole Klein. She has played the piano since she was 4 years old.

While she was a student at Brooklyn high school, she dated Neil Sedaka, who was in a band called The Tokens. Soon after, she formed her own group called the Co-sines and took the professional name Carole King.

Her 1971 Tapestry album was the best-selling album ever until 1978 when Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours outsold it.

Tapestry was number 1 on the Billboard 200 for 15 consecutive weeks, and held the record for most weeks at number 1 by a female solo artist for over 20 years until surpassed by Whitney Houston’s The Bodyguard: Original Soundtrack Album in 1993.

Carole King was the first woman to win Song of The Year Award in 1972 for “You’ve Got A Friend,” a jam that she performed with James Taylor.

Carole didn’t always have a way with words. King has said that words didn’t always come as easily when she was a teen, calling herself “lyrically challenged.” She said that the true magic started happening when she met lyricist and future ex-husband Gerry Goffin at college in New York.

She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1987.

King acted on Broadway in 1994 for the first time, taking over for Petula Clark in Bloodbrothers.

Carole King was a “Gilmore Girl”. Not only did King co-pen the theme song for the early ’00s show, “Where You Lead (I Will Follow)” — sung by daughter Louise — she also appeared on “Gilmore Girls” as the cranky owner of a Stars Hollow music store.

Carole has won 4 Grammy Awards. Record of the Year for “It’s Too Late”, Album of the Year for “Tapestry”, Song of The Year for “You’ve Got a Friend” and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for “Tapestry”.

Beautiful The Carole King Musical won a Grammy Award for Best Musical Theatre Album

Carole’s song “Now and Forever” from the movie A League of Their Own received an Academy Award Nomination for Best Song.


For more information about Beautiful The Carole King Musical CLICK HERE.

Some Stories Behind the Dancing Feet

By Evan Henerson

As showbiz tales go, “42nd Street’s” is one of the oldest and most inspirational. Fresh faced starry-eyed girl gets off the bus from Allentown determined to find a job – any job – in show business. When the star breaks her ankle, up steps the unknown to take over and write her name in lights.


Caitlin Ehlinger and Matthew J. Taylor of the 2016 42nd Street Touring Cast.

Great stuff, right? Well, naturally, there’s a story behind the effort to bring the classic 1933 film to the Broadway stage in 1980 where it ran for more than eight years. Likewise, there’s another tale behind the 2001 Broadway revival on which the current production at the Hollywood Pantages is based. In the more than 30 years he has spent with the show, Mark Bramble – the musical’s co-writer and the revival’s director –can rattle off an assortment of them.

But in the summer of 2015, when Bramble and choreographer Randy Skinner re-assembled to assemble the newest touring cast, Bramble put out a call for new stories about another time.

“When I approach a new production, I really do start from scratch, and I want to put the show in a context that’s relevant to the time in which the production is being done,” Bramble said. “We’re just getting out of — and some people say we’re still not out of — this tremendous recession. In 1933, 42nd street, the film really got America out of the Depression.”


2016 Touring Cast of 42nd Street

“These are people in their 20s and 30s and they had no understanding of the Great Depression. Many of them didn’t even know it existed,” he continued. “I gave them an assignment: find someone in your life who was alive in 1933 and who had a memory of that time. We shared those stories every day before rehearsal.”

While several “42nd Street” company members came back with stories of loss and ruin, others found evidence of ingenuity and even prosperity. An African American singer and dancer and her sister got jobs singing at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem (“they had never had it so grand,” Bramble said.) Another cast member found someone who spoke of planting a secret vegetable garden, protected by a ramshackle fence, on which they survived and, when possible, helped feed the neighborhood.


42nd Street Opening Night 1980

Bramble shared a personal story as well. Bramble’s mother, a child at the time, accompanied her father when he went to work on Saturdays to take violin lessons at Baltimore’s Peabody Institute. One day while on the train, they learned that the stock market had crashed and the banks had closed. The girl asked her father what all of this meant. It meant, her father explained, that the only money the family had left was what was currently in his wallet.

“When the country began to get back on its feet, and she resumed her routine of going to Baltimore, she would see people on the train and in the train station who she had once seen as well dressed businessmen, and they were selling apples,” Bramble said. “They had lost their jobs. They had lost everything, and there they were trying to survive by literally selling apples.”

Bramble first heard this story in the late 1970s when he and co-writer Michael Stewart were figuring out how to bring “42nd Street” to the stage. After watching a screening of the film at the Carnegie Cinema in the basement of Carnegie Hall, they rushed back to Stewart’s apartment and called composer Jerry Herman to gauge his interest in composing new music. Herman’s response: absolutely not. Anybody who adapted “42nd Street” for the stage and didn’t use Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s songs in a stage musical was a fool.


1980 Cast of 42nd Street

Bramble, Stewart and director-choreographer Gower Champion set out to secure the rights to the song catalog. Meanwhile, word of the team’s quest filtered back to legendary producer David Merrick. Merrick, who had been working on films in Hollywood, wanted to get back to Broadway and thought “42nd Street” would be the perfect vehicle.

Stewart balked, still smarting from the failure of their collaboration on 1974’s “Mack and Mabel.” Bramble insisted they take a meeting with the producer, and Stewart went in with guns blazing.

“We met at the Oak Room of the Plaza Hotel,” Bramble recalled. “Mike was a very feisty guy and he was very pissed off with Merrick over ‘Mack and Mabel.’ He sat down and he was practically growling, he was so angry. He said, ‘David, this is a big show. We want 16 girls,’ and Merrick looked at him as if he had lost his mind.”

“He said, ’16 girls? I won’t do it with less than 24, and if we can fit them on the stage, I’ll use 36.’ Of course, that shut Mike up. David said, ‘I want to do the biggest show since the Second World War,’ and we set about to do that.”

As the team came together, Champion – the show’s director and choreographer – needed a male dance assistant to work with arranger Donald Johnston. Johnston recommended a young dancer from Ohio named Randy Skinner.


Randy Skinner

“I was kind of the same age as a lot of the kids I was in charge of,” Skinner recalled. “On the one hand, I felt like one of the kids, and wanted to go out with them at night. The other half of me realized that this was one of those breaks that happens without your realizing that it could be life altering. Which it was.”

The out of town reviews were not favorable, but Merrick forged ahead anyway. At its first preview in Washington D.C.’s Kennedy Center, Bramble recalls maybe 300 people in an auditorium that held 2,000. On the play’s opening night in 1980, Champion passed away. The musical went on to become the 14th longest running show in Broadway history.


After an opening night of “42nd Street” in 1980, the producer David Merrick, right, announced the death of the show’s director, Gower Champion.

“42nd Street’s “success effectively launched the careers of both Bramble and Skinner who reunited to stage the 2001 revival, Bramble as director, Skinner as choreographer. The two men have subsequently worked on productions both regionally and around the world from London to Shanghai, from Berlin to Tokyo. Bramble has been nominated for Tony Awards for the original book and for his direction of the 2001 revival. Skinner’s choreography for the revival was also Tony-nominated.

Skinner calls it “the granddaddy of all musicals.” Bramble concurs, citing the life-affirming message about the possibility of the American Dream, a theme that he says never gets old.

“If you follow your bliss, dreams really can come true,” Bramble said, “and I think that’s what the appeal was of the film in 1933, I think it’s what the appeal was of the original Broadway show in 1980, and I think it continues to be the appeal.”

And speaking of following your bliss, here’s one more story.


Matthew J. Taylor and Caitlin Ehlinger as Peggy Sawyer and Julian Marsh in 42nd Street

While still in high school in Houston, Caitlin Ehlinger took a master class with Skinner and declared it a dream to one day dance for Skinner professionally. Nearing her graduation date and with only high school musicals on her resume, she travelled to New York to audition for “42nd Street.” After a 10 day audition process, she won the role of – you guessed it – Peggy Sawyer, the unknown ingénue who becomes a star.

Only in the theater.

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and

Jerry Herman Awards 2016

By Evan Henerson

The stage was set. The players, clad in a mixture of rehearsal tights and hoodies, were locked in on the task at hand. Actor Sage Cobos idly twirled a plunger like a baton. Their 45 minutes of on-stage preparation time were dwindling away, and the company of de Toledo High School’s “Urinetown” still had vocal warm-ups to execute and a run through to run through.


Sage Cabos (right) directs the “Urinetown” cast with his plunger

The actual performance was not due to start for another two hours, but the company’s director  spoke up with a final note of advice/warning.

“If you do not dance this to the point of exhaustion,” Diane Feldman told her ensemble, “I will seek vengeance upon you.”

The line may sound threatening, but Feldman – de Toledo’s drama, musical theater and vocal instruction teacher — knows her company, and nobody was intimidated. If a segment of your high school production is going to “graduate” from an auditorium or gymnasium to a one night showcase on the historic Hollywood Pantages Theatre, every member of your company will need to bring his or her A-game.

Feldman and the De Toledo “Urinetown-ers” did, and that’s why they were furiously blocking out the number “Run, Freedom, Run” which opened the second act of the 5th Annual Jerry Herman High School Musical Theatre Awards of Los Angeles. De Toledo, located in West Hills, was one of four schools selected to restage a portion of the musical staged during the year during the awards show.


The Archer School for Girls performs a medley from “Spring Awakening”

Joining de Toledo were The Archer School for Girls performing a rocking medley from its all-female production of “Spring Awakening,” Oaks Christian School’s rendition of “We’ve got Magic to do” from “Pippin” and Village Christian School’s tap-happy, chimney sweep-laden medley from “Disney’s Marry Poppins.” Each of the four productions ended up capturing at least one Jerry Herman Award during the evening.


Oaks Christian High School performing the opening number from “Pippin”


Village Christian High School performing a medley from “Disney’s Mary Poppins”

Those performance numbers barely constituted an appetizer on the Herman Awards’ menu of entertainment. Think you’ve seen casts of thousands represented on the Pantages stage? How about 50 young men and women belting out selections of songs from “42nd Street,” “A Chorus Line” “Hercules,” and “Dreamgirls” during the production’s opening number  – “One Night. Once Chance”?

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Jerry Herman Award’s opening number “One Night One Chance”

And that was just for starters during an evening full of celebrity presenters and awardees across all the theatrical disciplines. Three young men and three young women were selected from that group of 50 to perform a solo number for a panel of judges, with a trip to New York to participate in the National High School Musical (AKA The Jimmys) awarded to the best actor and best actress winners. During the auditions held two days before the event, each of the 50 actors had their work reviewed by industry veteran judges including McCoy Rigby Entertainment Services producer Cathy Rigby and hit-making director-choreographer Kenny Ortega.

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Participants wait their turn to audition in front of the judges.

More than 30 public and private high schools from Conejo Valley to Orange County submitted productions for consideration across a variety of performance and technical categories.  School administrators filled out forms at the beginning of the school year. The Hollywood Pantages sent volunteer adjudicators to all of the performances. In the spring, a team at the Pantages, working from the adjudicators’ notes and a DVD of the production, determined the nominees.

For two days leading up the show, the best actor and actress nominees auditioned before the panel of five judges. In sessions that lasted 10-15 minutes, each of the nearly 50 nominees got to sing one or two songs in front of Ortega, Rigby and fellow judges John Bowab, Lewis Wilkenfeld and Nancy Dussault. Following the audition, the judges offered encouragement and constructive professional feedback.

For Hamilton High School senior Emma Griffone, getting a taste of what a Broadway audition will be like was an invaluable experience.

“It’s so important,” she said. “Between the long rehearsal process we had this weekend and the auditions, it’s really great to know what it’s like to walk into an audition. The whole rehearsal process was almost like Chorus 101 for me, learning how to wait, how to stand there and to put together a number in a really short period of time. I think it’s really a lot about building your confidence about standing out but also working together on a collaborative experience.”

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Emma Griffone (right) in rehearsals for the opening number

As participants and show producers continuously noted, opportunities for young artists to strut their stuff are rare. School arts programs are in constant jeopardy of losing funding forcing high school drama teachers and students alike to be creative in order to keep interest in the performing arts alive. The validation of a sold out theater full of students, teachers, parents, mentors and working theater folks can work wonders.

Wilkenfeld, the artistic director of the Cabrillo Music Theatre, knows this only too well. Working with many young performers at the start of their careers, Wilkenfeld joined the Jerry Herman Awards judging panel in 2015 in part because he understood the importance of keeping that spark alive.

“They were bussing us to shows when I was a kid, and now they don’t even do that,” Wilkenfeld said. “To see these kids falling in love with the arts, it’s keeping them focused. It’s keeping them in love with school. Even if they’re not a math whiz, even if their English theater bores them and they don’t understand science, they’re still coming to school for this.”

Broadway veteran Gregory Jbara echoed the sentiment. Jbarra attended the Herman awards both to present the award for Best Supporting Actor and to support the efforts of his son, Zachary, who is completing his first year at Hamilton High School’s performing arts magnet.

“I realize how lucky these kids are that there’s a situation like this where they get to be celebrated,” said Jbara, a Tony Award-winner for “Billy Elliott.” “I’m proud to be in the company of a community that says ‘This is important, and we will back you.’”


Greg Jbara (left) James L. Nederlander (right) pose on the red carpet for the 2016 Jerry Herman Awards

While only two performers will emerge from the experience bound for New York and a shot at the Jimmys, the general consensus among the participants is that every nominee – on stage or otherwise – is a winner.

“I don’t feel like it’s a competition at all,” said Cobos a leading actor candidate for de Toledo’s “Urinetown. “(All the nominees) rehearse for eight hours together. Everyone is so attentive and happy to be singing together. They’re singing, harmonizing, dancing – all the things we love to do.  You just hear some of these kids’ voices and you think, ‘Oh my God, I want to sing with you!’”


Participants creating new friendships over lunch break on rehearsal day

“That we even managed to get here was a huge hurdle for us,” added Verdugo Hills High School Orchestra Director Victoria Lopez whose production of “Hairspray” was nominated for best orchestra. “We’re sharing a stage with the top schools in and around southern California. That in itself is a big award for us. This is a learning experience, and it will motivate the students to keep working and to keep trying to raise our standards.”

As celebratory as the entire event is, the event is not without its share of tension. For the judges, who spend concentrated time with nearly 50 hopeful actors and actresses ages 14 to 17, the auditions are a mixture of boostering, reassurance and maybe even scouting talent for future productions. Future Disney Channel star Ryan McCartan won the 2011 Jimmy Award for best actor before moving on to such projects as “Royal Pains,” “Liv and Maddie” and the upcoming TV adaptation of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” directed by Ortega.

“It’s a great growing opportunity for every single participant,” Ortega said. “Every single kid that comes in here, they’re open and they’re thirsty. Some have never been in a situation like this before, standing in front of five people in the industry that are making a choice as to whether they’re going to move forward. We do our best to try to get them to relax, let them know ‘This is your home. We’re in your space.’”

Easier said than believed, sometimes. During her audition, San Marino High School’s Lauren Hickey –  her hair still sporting the dye job from playing Audrey in SMHS’s spring production of “Little Shop of Horrors” – confessed to experiencing some nerves. After she displayed a bell-like soprano voice unleashing the satiric wistful “Somewhere That’s Green,” Hickey fielded an assortment of suggestions from the judges — be proud of your furniture covered in plastic, convey your amazement at owning a “big 12-inch (TV) screen.”

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Lauren Hickey (pictured in stripes) rehearsing for the opening number

“Walking into this room, it might feel kind of cold,” Ortega told Hickey, “but you went somewhere with this song. I would like you to just shake it out, trust yourself, believe in the people who know what you have and go to that place where you went when you did this on stage. Bring us there.”

Hickey performed the song a second time, incorporating the notes, and eliciting a parting “brava!” from the judges. That same evening, the judges heard a completely different rendition of “Somewhere That’s Green” from Canyon High School’s Abby Heywood whose character evoked comparisons to actress Megan Mullally. Heywood’s portrayal of “Little Shop’s” Audrey was markedly different from Hickey’s and the actress received a completely different set of notes.

Two nights later at the awards ceremony, Hickey advanced to the finals, joining fellow actresses Griffone and Antonia Vivino of Santa Susana High School. The three qualifying actors were Chaminade High School’s Alejandro Navarro, Zane Sipotz of Los Angeles County High School of the Arts (LACHSA) and Joshua Strobl of John Burroughs High School.


(From left) Antonia Vivino, Zane Sipotz, Lauren Hickey, Alejandro Navarro, Emma Griffone and Josh Strobl await to hear who will move onto New York for the Jimmy Awards.

Having gone through the Minneapolis Spotlight Awards five years earlier en route to winning the 2011 Jimmy, McCarten said he understood how the six finalists were feeling backstage as they prepared for the final vote. “They are freaking out right now,” he told the audience before presenting the No Small Parts award to de Toledo’s Brennen Klitzner.

And “freaking out” covered the range of emotions, agreed Griffone who said she spent a substantial portion of her time backstage waiting for the final award announcement pacing or slamming back glasses of water to keep from getting dehydrated. Griffone, who will attend Northwestern University in the fall, capped off her high school musical career with a mighty rendition of Evillene’s song “No Bad News” from “The Wiz.”

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Emma Griffone (right) and Josh Strobl (left) give the performance of their lives to move onto the Jimmy Awards in NYC.

As the Herman Awards came to an end, the news was good for Griffone who won the Best Actress award. Strobl took the Best Actor prize. De Toledo’s “Urinetown” was awarded the Best Production.


Kenny Ortega presents the award for Best Production to the cast of de Toledo’s “Urinetown”

“For me, what’s important is not the awards,” de Toledo’s Feldman said. “It’s the fact that somebody came in and said ‘We like the story you told.’ It’s about being here collectively with all these people who are here for the same reason: because theatre speaks to them, because theater empowers them, because theater enlightens them, because we love it.”

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and

Evan Henerson has been writing about theater in Los Angeles for more than 20 years. He was the Theater writer and critic for the Los Angeles Daily News for nine years and has written for Playbill Online, Backstage, American Theatre and Stage Directions.You can read his reviews on TheaterMania, CurtainUp and