BWW Special Feature: 99 and Under the Radar; A Trojan Force
Welcome to 99 AND UNDER THE RADAR: A LOOK AT INDIE THEATER'S MOVERS AND SHAKERS, BroadwayWorld's new weekly series that showcases standout productions and production companies from the independent theater scene in New York City. Each week, independent producer Michael Roderick will be discussing the latest goings on in the theatrical wings, highlighting those with potentially bright futures.
This Week's Topic: A Trojan Force
New York City has many vibrant Alumni networks, but the Alumni of the University of Southern California accomplished something spectacular this week. They created their own awards show. The 2nd Annual Tommy Awards was presented on Monday June 28th at NYU's Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts and was absolutely mind blowing for a number of reasons:
The first is that this wasn't orchestrated by some huge corporation or event planning company. The entire event was put together by a host of dedicated volunteers that consisted of both alumni and non alumni of the school. The organization of it fell into the hands of a group of USC wunderkinds who coordinated industry as well as press attendance, booked a spectacular venue, and locked in amazing talent. The TONY awards might want to stop by next time and take some notes on how to keep an awards ceremony fresh. Conceived by Michael Schwartz and Kate Russo and executive produced by Amir Akhavan, this event did something else truly remarkable: All the money raised from the event went towards scholarships for students who needed financial aid in order to attend the school. The students have already been part of numerous internships and program with news channels, banks, and more. They themselves with most likely grow up to be the kind of phenoms that were at the helm of this evening of song and celebration.
The second thing that was really a breath of fresh air was the open nature of the ceremony. Yes, it was created and supported by a number of members of USC's theatre alumni, but it didn't limit itself that way. There were people from all walks of life who were honored for their contributions to the school and many of the honorees had no theatre background. In a time when we often see people closing off and creating their own cliques, this group welcomes anyone with open arms into their vast network. Even if you weren't a "Trojan", the ceremony made you feel like you were part of this incredible network. Often Alumni events can make anyone who is not an alumni feel out of place and awkward. With this award show every member of the audience, Trojan or not, felt like they were an important part. A small sampling of the evenings' honorees include: David Bach author of the NY Times best seller "Start Late, Finish Rich", Timothy Coleman, the senior managing director and co-head of The Blackstone Group's Restructuring and Reorganization group, Jonie Fu a partner in the architecture firm Cooper, Robertson, and Partners, Peter Plagens, a painter who's work has been shown all over New York, and for the theatre fans, Frank Wildhorn who was the first composer in 22 years to have three shows running simultaneously on Broadway: Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and The Civil War. All of the honorees had much to say about the sense of pride and community they felt while accepting their awards.
The last thing was the caliber of talent. Often awards shows feature a few great numbers and some mediocre ones, but this show, expertly directed by Michael Schwartz featured all great numbers that were fresh and engaging. The cast of Donald Webber Jr, Sara Benjamin, Julie Boardman, Danielle Faitelson, Briga Heelan, Laurie Hymes, and Lara Janine moved effortlessly from number to entertaining number with seemingly boundless energy as they cranked out songs that were written for the ceremony as well as many classics. Kamille Rudisill and Kelly Rudisill sang a beautiful heart breaking number from their vast repertoire of lovely songs. The evening also featured a very special performance by Kevin Mambo of Broadway's Fela! in which he took it down a notch and enchanted the audience with his guitar playing and melodic singing. The works of the night included songs created for the event by extremely talented writing teams including Ryan Scott Oliver and Kirsten Guenther, as well as Jeff Thomson and Jordan Mann. There were also a few very well known songs peppered throughout the performance, but the names above are ones to look for when looking for the future of musical theatre. For more info on the Tommy Awards and how to get involved in the next round, check them out at www.alumni.usc.edu/tommyawards/.