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Big Night for Big Apple Theater Students

Honoring the best in local high school musical theater at the Gershwin Awards

By Mark Jarvis

In 2009, when the Jimmy Awards were first presented, regional high school theater awards became connected to one another and to the professional theater industry. Two years later, Camp Broadway, a youth-theater organization, created the Gershwin Awards, which further recognize outstanding musical theater achievements by New York City high school students. In 2011, Camp Broadway partnered with CAP21, a Manhattan-based training center for musical theater artists; they now host a daylong audition for local students nominated by their drama teachers.

Melissa Caolo, managing director of Camp Broadway, recently spoke with Show Business about the Gershwin Awards and where they are heading.

Show Business: What niche do the Gershwins fill that is not currently being filled by other theatrical awards?

Melissa Caolo: This program celebrates students, as well as their aspirations and accomplishments. At the daylong audition for the Gershwin Awards, the nominees are coached and adjudicated by industry professionals including Cesar Rocha (Telsey + Company), David Chase (music director, Nice Work If You Can Get It) and Eliza Ventura (artistic director and co-founder of CAP21).

SB: What do students get if they win? 

MC: The winner of the Best Performance by a Leading Actor and Best Performance by Leading Actress each win $1,000 and a scholarship to CAP21’s summer program. They also go on to compete in the Jimmys in New York City in June where they will spend six days with 58 other high school students from all over the United States. Winning aside, it’s about the experience and a celebration of all the students who love the theater and take the risk of putting themselves in front of an audience.

SB: How many students compete?

MC: Now in our second, year we have been able to reach more schools and encourage teachers to nominate their students. We will have approximately 30 students competing. Since the students are nominated by their schools, the Gershwin Awards does not review students prior to the day of the audition. Connecting with the schools and, more important, the right person in the school to nominate the student can be a challenge. There is more awareness of the program this year and we expect to continue to grow to a point in which the Gershwin Awards will have a preliminary selection process prior to the audition date. 

SB: In your opinion, what are some of the ways that local high schools and the Department of Education can encourage more student involvement in musical theater? 

MC: There are ways to incorporate the arts and entertainment into school curricula, and there are several programs and services for this purpose. Camp Broadway has produced study guides for several years (which can be found at We also conduct Broadway workshops for school groups. These are both great ways to give students exposure to the material that is available. Beyond that I think there are ways to encourage students in the value of participating in school activities that involve musical theater. There tends to be a focus on students who want to be performers when they leave high school, or pursue working in live entertainment, but there’s value in participating even if you want to be a veterinarian. Performing on stage teaches students how to be part of an ensemble. They also learn when to shine as an individual for the benefit of that ensemble. I can’t tell you the number of non-theatrical professionals we encounter who light up when you ask what role they played in their high school musical. 

SB: The nature of commercial theater has changed a great deal in the last few decades. What do you think George and Ira Gershwin would have thought about the state of modern Broadway?

MC: Not only has commercial theater changed, the world has changed. The way people consume entertainment has changed as well. The contribution of George and Ira Gershwin extends so far into American culture, beyond the boundaries of commercial theater. It’s impossible to guess. I hope new talent will continue to look to icons like George and Ira Gershwin, who continue to inspire innovation and creativity. It seems this is happening with two Gershwin musicals currently on Broadway. It’s important to be steeped in the legacy of the industry and allow that to inform us as contemporary artists building on those great foundations. We are grateful for the support of the Gershwin Estate. Those ties to such an inspirational legacy motivates us all, and we endeavor to make them proud. 

The Gershwin Awards ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 19, at CAP21 in New York City. Visit