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The Tommy Tune Awards

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Winners of the TUTS 2014 Tommy Awards (with Tommy Tune, third from left) are: Stephen Louis, Emily Lewis, Tune, Nyles Washington, Amber Scott, Kyle Legacion, Emily Scott, and John Breckenridge.
Winners of the TUTS 2014 Tommy Awards (with Tommy Tune, third from left) are: Stephen Louis, Emily Lewis, Tune, Nyles Washington, Amber Scott, Kyle Legacion, Emily Scott, and John Breckenridge.

Houston-area high school musical theater productions are honored.
by Donalevan Maines
Photo by Bruce Bennett

Musical productions of “If You Were Gay” and “Gay or European?” are highlights of the 2014 Tommy Tune Awards, which will be broadcast this month.

The show also takes viewers behind the scenes of the 12th annual Tony Awards-style ceremony that was held April 16 at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. The Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) program honors excellence in Houston-area high school musical theater productions by crowning winners in 15 categories.

It’s a night of dizzying excitement for the teen theater stars. “Backstage, I talked to some man. I don’t remember who he was,” says one winner, referring to a local television personality who tapes a Q&A with the category champs as soon as they step off the stage.

The celebrants also sang a 75th “Happy Birthday” to the awards’ namesake, Tommy Tune, after he joined acting nominees in “We’ll Take a Glass Together” from Grand Hotel. (Tune won two of his nine Tony Awards for directing and choreographing the 1989 musical version of the 1932 movie that won the Oscar for Best Picture.)

Tune’s fans were reminded of his movie debut as Ambrose Kemper, opposite Barbra Streisand in Hello, Dolly!, when Pearland High School students performed “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from their January production of the 1964 musical.

The casts of all eight nominees for Best Musical got to perform on the big Hobby Center stage.

First up was “Knights of the Round Table” from Spamalot at Cinco Ranch High School in Katy. A male dance duet tickled the audience and primed them for “If You Were Gay” from Avenue Q starring puppets peopled by students from the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) in Montrose. In “If You Were Gay,” Rod tells his closeted friend Nicky, “If you were queer/I’d still be here/Year after year.”

To prep the cast for HSPVA’s production last fall, the theater department brought in the puppet coordinator for AvenueQ’s post-Broadway production in Las Vegas, for a week of “puppet boot camp” training on the show’s three different types of puppetry.

“Each year the level of talent we see in the local high schools just gets better and better,” says John Breckenridge, TUTS president and CEO. “The students from across our city are producing some truly amazing pieces of theater, and TUTS could not be more proud to host this awards program to give a platform for these students and their work.”

Episcopal High School, one of the program’s most successful participants, scored five nominations for Legally Blonde The Musical. It’s based on the 2001 movie starring Reese Witherspoon as Elle, a blonde sorority queen who enrolls in Harvard Law School after being dumped by her boyfriend.

In a climactic courtroom scene, a case hinges on whether the defendant has been carrying on an affair with her sexy pool boy. Or is he gay? “Look at that tan, that tinted skin/Look at the killer shape he’s in/Look at that slightly stubbly chin/Oh please, he’s gay, totally gay,” sings one camp.

But the opposition counters, “Look at that condescending smirk/Seen it on every guy at work/That is a metro hetero jerk/That guy’s not gay, I say no way.”

Other Best Musical nominees performed “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” from Guys and Dolls, “Run, Freedom, Run!” from Urinetown, “Gaston” from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and “Carnaval del Barrio” from In the Heights, which brought the cheering audience to its feet.

A highlight of every Tommy Tune Awards ceremony is the spotlight on nominees for Best Leading Actor and Best Leading Actress. In separate medleys, the contenders perform snippets from the performances that caught the eye of 29 local theater buffs who evaluated the shows and chose the nominees and winners.

In the finale, two students from each of the 44 participating schools were invited to perform “Eyes on the Goal.” Among them were students who had played one of the most popular characters in the current repertoire of high school shows, Logainne Schwartzandgrubenierre in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Logainne is the stressed-out daughter of two overbearing gay fathers in the one-act comedy with music and lyrics by William Finn (Falsettos).

TUTS also presented more than $25,000 in college scholarships to 10 outstanding thespians and crowned the winner of the prestigious Ruth Denney Award, named in honor of Tune’s mentor and legendary Lamar High School drama teacher.

What: The Tommy Tune Awards
When: 11:05 p.m., Saturday, June 28
Where: ABC-13 KTRK-TV
Details: tuts.com

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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