The ‘Tommys’

Tune in: Tommy Tune poses with scholarship winner. Photo: Bruce Bennett Photography.

by Donalevan Maines

One of Houston’s most entertaining live shows was filmed for a two-hour broadcast at noon on Sunday, June 3, on ABC’s KTRK-TV. The 10th annual Tommy Tune Awards—a ceremony that somehow gets better every year—honors excellence in high school musical theater.

“We’re glad we can provide a spotlight for the next generation of musical theater talent,” said John Breckenridge, president and CEO of Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS), which sponsors the annual competition among 44 Houston-area public and private schools.

The cast of each Best Musical nominee performed a rousing production number from their respective shows, including Chicago (St. John’s School), How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Klein Oak), The Drowsy Chaperone (Kingwood), Once Upon a Mattress (Klein), The Will Rogers Follies (Stratford), The Pajama Game (Friendswood), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Episcopal), and a second The Drowsy Chaperone (Clear Springs).

The awards are named for Lamar High School alumnae Tommy Tune, who opened the Tony Awards-style show with “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” from Seesaw. Tune won his first of nine Tony Awards as 1973–74’s best featured actor in a musical for Seesaw, which legendary Michael Bennett directed and choreographed.

Tune told a crowd of more than 2,500 packed into the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts that he knew nothing about theater until he met Lamar High drama teacher Ruth Denny, who cast him as Frank Butler in “Annie Get Your Gun.”

All 36 nominees for best lead and supporting performances joined Tune in the opening number, and the best lead actor and best lead actress nominees returned in medleys from their roles.

Finalists in each of 15 categories were chosen by a team of 32 Houston-area theater buffs who attended the various productions in the 2011–2012 school year.

For the evening’s grand finale, two students from each school sang “Eyes on the Goal.”

The Tommy Tune Awards have been so successful that Dallas Summer Musicals launched a competition this year modeled after the Houston program. Thirty schools in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex competed in DSM’s first annual awards show, which culminated in a red-carpet gala on May 5 at Fair Park Music Hall.

A student who played Jonny in Zombie Prom at Lewisville High School told the Dallas Morning News, “Hope is what we are most deprived of as a people . . . and theater is one place we can turn to find a fleeting sense of it. I want to be a vessel of providing hope to those who have none.”

The best lead actors from both Texas competitions won trips to the National High School Musical Theater Awards this month in New York City. They will participate in rehearsals and master classes, receive one-on-one coaching from theater professionals, be seen by casting agents, meet and converse with Broadway actors, and compete for scholarships and other prizes, including the JimmyAward, which is named after Broadway theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander.

The annual Tommy Tune Awards ceremony is open to the public and shines the spotlight on students, teachers, and parents involved in high school theater departments. It’s an electric evening that also celebrates many in the LGBT community.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.

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