BWW Review: IOWA HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL THEATRE AWARDS at Des Moines Performing Arts: Theatre Inspires!
Coming into downtown Des Moines on June 3, I saw a parade of students in black heading towards the heart of downtown. Where were these students going? They were heading to the Civic Center of Greater Des Moines for the Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards Showcase. An event that brings talented students from all corners of the state to celebrate the musicals they had put on through the year.
What are the Iowa High School Musical Awards? They are a program put together by the education department of Des Moines Performing Arts. Throughout the school year, schools that participate in the program get to have a group of adjudicators come to see their musical productions and provide feedback. This feedback celebrates the work the school has done and provides students and schools the steps they need to take their programs to the next level.
Our host for the evening was Kyle Taylor Parker. He is best known for playing the role of Lola in "Kinky Boots" on Broadway as well as the National Tour. I enjoyed the humor he brought to the evening. He found so many different ways to say to hold your applause till all the performances had completed. I found myself laughing multiple times through the evening at how reminded the audience of this. I also thought he did a tremendous job through the evening when there were technical difficulties to keep the production moving forward. One of the ways he did this was sharing about an experience he had in a show where there was an issue and how he thought on his feet and was able to address the issue. He also provided a saying from "Kinky Boots" director Jerry Mitchell that I hope the students take with them. "What we do, we do together."
The evening started with the first of three medleys featuring students from the schools that participated in this year's awards. I appreciated that the open medley started with three soloists welcoming everyone with "Opening Sequence: The New World" from Jason Robert Brown's "Songs For a New World". It built the anticipation of for what was to come for the evening. As the medley went on the energy continued to build until the finale of "Brand New You" from Jason Robert Brown's "13: The Musical".
Later, we were treated to a medley by the students who were nominated by adjudicators to participate in the Triple Threat Award. This medley always has an energy of anticipation as once this is over, the performers will be announced that have earned a trip to New York to participate in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards also known as the Jimmy Awards. For me, the highlight of this number took place in the middle. One by one, students started sharing what they do theatre. Many of them sharing about how they have discovered themselves. As they shared, the music swelled until they started singing "You Will Be Found" from "Dear Evan Hansen." I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye in the house. The medley ended fittingly with "Tonight Belongs to You" from "The Prom" as the night was about to belong to two students.
The first student to find out that they had earned a chance to participate in the Jimmy Awards was Peyton Reese from Davenport Central. In her encore performance, Peyton was able to show another side of her voice. While her spotlight performance earlier in the evening had shown that she had the power to belt, this song showed the softer side of her voice. While there were moments where she was able to use the belt, each of those moments felt like they were earned.
We then received an encore from Cole Strelecki from West Des Moines Valley, as was also chosen to go to the Jimmy Awards. Earlier in the evening Cole was able to show a larger than life character with an agenda. For his encore performance, he shows a down to earth character fighting what was right. The contrast of songs he chose, showed his range as an actor.
The evening closed with one more medley with students, similar to the opening number. The main difference is that it also featured the evening's host Kyle Taylor Parker. Fittingly the medley ended with "Raise Your Up/Just Be" from Kinky Boots. It was a very fitting finale echoing how being involved with theatre helps so many people find who they are. The song encouraged not just the students but the audience to be who they are because they are beautiful.
Theatre is alive and well in Iowa. The Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards shows why. It is because of the students who participate, the teachers, faculty, and parents who support them, and the adjudicators who take the time to go see the shows and provide feedback. If you need to be inspired, go see a high school production. I can promise you, no matter how big or small your local school is, what the students are doing will inspire you and put a smile on your face. To find out more information about the Iowa High School Musical Theatre Awards, visit https://desmoinesperformingarts.org/ihsmta