NORTH LOGAN – When Abigail Edwards was cast to play Belle in Beauty in the Beast at Green Canyon High School earlier this year, it was a dream role. When she was nominated for Utah’s Best Actress for the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards (UHSMTA) because of that role, it would take her on an unforgettable adventure.
Edwards competed at the UHSMTA and won Best Actress in a Musical for the state of Utah. Part of that win included a sponsored participation in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York City. Edwards joined Utah’s Best Actor Ethan Kelso from Salt Lake City in the Big Apple to compete against actors from across the country.
The pair spent 10 days of private coaching, master classes and rehearsals with theatre professionals in New York. The week culminated at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre when they performed and competed for the prestigious Jimmy® Awards for Best Performance by an Actor and Actress, as well as opportunities for professional advancement and other awards.
Kelso walked away with the Jimmy Award for Best Performance by an Actor, which includes a $25,000 scholarship, a full ride scholarship to Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Even though Edwards didn’t walk away with an award, she walked away with an unforgettable experience.
“I had the first solo, and as I stood there on the center of a Broadway stage, in front of all these adoring fans in the spotlight, I remember thinking, ‘I have to remember this, it’s a once in a lifetime experience,’” Edwards said.
Edwards was relieved to find that the National High School Musical Theatre Awards was more of a celebration than a competition.
“We were able to meet amazing people from all over the country and it felt like a celebration that we got to be there,” she said.
The actors spent days rehearsing at the NYU Performing Arts School from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. learning the music and putting together the choreography. The final show was performed with an opening number, intermediate musical numbers and the selection of finalists and winner.
Edwards said New York was a magical experience, and she plans to act and sing “on the side” for the rest of her life. “It was such an incredible experience, but I don’t have plans to pursue the Broadway route and move to New York and be a struggling actor,” she said.
The North Logan native has plans to attend Utah State University in the fall. She’s interested in teaching or “something math-related, because I love math.”
Sharing advice to the younger kids looking to act and sing in school, Edwards said to have fun.
“Just enjoy it. It was fun to be in New York, but my most memorable moments were in high school working with other kids my age and just having fun. The connections you make will last a lifetime,” she said.
Performing on the stage for the first time at age five, Edwards has loved singing and acting her entire life. She remembered playing Jemima in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “It was so magical. I got to fly in a car. I look back on those memories and it was really fun,” she said.
The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre began the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards nine years ago when founding Artistic Director Michael Ballam first learned of the Jimmy® Awards and felt that the state of Utah needed to be represented. “I have always felt that there is more talent per capita in the state of Utah than any other state in the nation,” said Ballam.
Vanessa Ballam, education director, said each year the education department at Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre invites every high school in the state to participate in the program. Participation is voluntary and requires a great deal of commitment from the individual high school teachers and students.
Utah Festival sends professional judges to each participating musical (this year there were 40 participating musicals) to score and respond to the productions. Ballam said the juried finalists then compete in the official awards ceremony which, for the past three years, has been housed at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in Salt Lake City.
The evening showcases 10 production numbers by high schools nominated for Best Musical as well as five medleys performed by all contenders for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Cameo Performer.
“This program is about bringing students and teachers together to celebrate the art of musical theatre and the great work that is happening in our state on the high school level,” said Vanessa Ballam.