At the end of May, more than 2,000 kids and their friends and parents headed to Starlight Theatre for the Blue Star Awards, Kansas City’s high school version of the Tony Awards. They got decked out in dramatic formal wear, walked down a red carpet and had their pictures taken, then performed bits of their shows and made acceptance speeches.
To determine winners, Starlight sends a team of trained theater professionals — "adjudicators" — to watch high school productions throughout the school year. Since last fall, those adjudicators watched 57 musicals at 48 public and private schools. They used a rigorous ranking system to determine winners in 22 performance (such as actor, actress, ensemble member, actor and actress in supporting roles) and technical categories (including scenic design, costume design and construction, lighting, hair and makeup design).
This year, for the first time in the 13 years Starlight has been hosting this show, there was a complication in the category for outstanding actress in a lead role: a tie.
Several efforts to break the tie in the lead-actress category were unsuccessful, so two performers shared the Blue Star Award: Maggie Marx of Shawnee Mission Northwest High School for her role as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, and Paden Osburn of Winnetonka High School, for her role as Daisy Hilton in Side Show.
The two graduating seniors shared the trophy, but there was one thing they couldn't share: Each year, the best lead actress and actor go on to represent Starlight at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York. Only one of the actresses could go.
They broke the tie with a sing-off that night, and Marx won.
Meanwhile, Austin Dalgleish of Shawnee Mission East won the Blue Star for Outstanding Actor in a Lead Role, for his performance as Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors.
"I thought I was hearing the name wrong," Dalgleish says of the announcement. "I’ve gone to the Blue Star Awards every year, and you watch people — the spotlight literally hits them, they walk up and it seemed so nerve-racking. And it was. I had to give a speech and was totally unprepared. It was surreal."
In his speech, Dalgleish said he never thought he'd be nominated for "something as cool as a Blue Star Award," much less win one. And he thanked Starlight and sponsor Blue Cross and Blue Shield for "this amazing program."
The program doesn't just result in a giant awards party. Besides determining winners, Starlight's adjudicators provide detailed feedback on every aspect of a high school production.
"We train our adjudication team to offer not just the successes of what they saw in the given category, but also suggestions for ways that it could be improved, things to think about for future performances," says Amy Reinert, Starlight's director of education and outreach. "So it’s hoping to hone those skills as students grow."
That education continues for Dalgleish and Marx in the week leading up to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. They'll undergo an intensive, five-day workshop that includes one-on-one voice and acting lessons from Broadway performers, choreograph an entire musical production and have Q&A sessions with Broadway actors before Monday, June 29, when they compete against their peers from 27 cities.
"All these people are the top in their state," Marx says, adding that she'll be OK if she doesn’t win.
"All of us are going to be there because we love being there," she says. "We'll make connections for the rest of our life. That’s what matters most: the experience and the love for the art you have."
That, and the experience they’ve already had.
"As a freshman," Dalgleish says, "I was cast in the first show. So I was this little scared freshman. Now, I guess I graduated, but I was the theater president, I was on the board for two years, I learned every aspect of our department. I really stepped up and was in a lot of the shows. So it was enriching to get training on stage, but also managerial and leadership. I think that really applies to everything, and helped with being a well-rounded applicant for schools."
This fall, Dalgleish heads to the University of Southern California, where he’ll have a double major in communications and design, and theater. Maggie Marx already has a few professional theater jobs lined up in Kansas City.
That’s unless one of them wins a Jimmy, in which case they might just stay on Broadway.