SALT LAKE CITY, Utah(News4Utah) Theater students at Hillcrest High School are becoming accustomed to standing ovations. The school’s production of “Les Miserables” won Best Musical at the Utah High School Musical Awards. They also won first place at the State High School Theatre Competition and the Sweepstakes Award at the high school Shakespeare Competition. Winning all three honors in one year – the “triple crown” of Utah high school theater – has only been done once before. This morning, GMU was honored to hear from Bennett Chew, who won “Best Actor” at the Utah High School Musical Awards, and his theater teacher, Josh Long.
Long says it’s a great honor to win all three awards, especially because of the high caliber of educational theatre in Utah. High School theatre is really flourishing in the state right now. Long says he’s so proud of the students, because they have worked so hard, and it’s nice to see some recognition for that. He says they should always reach for the high mark from judges, but also keep in mind that it’s art they’re creating.
“Les Miserables” is a very ambitious musical for high school students to perform, but Long says he never thought it would be too much for the kids to handle. He’s learned that if you set the bar high, and encourage students to hit it, and hold them to high standards, then they will meet that standard. That’s what Long thought was so beautiful about the whole thing: the high school kids could do it.
Bennett’s portrayal of Jean Valjean won the award for Best Actor. He told GMU how he prepared for his role. All the actors were asked to read Victor Hugo’s original work. Because Bennett was the lead, he says he had to really dig into the words and find the inspiration to really understand the character and how he transformed himself. He describes it as a true learning experience to find the parts of the book that would help him understand the character even more.
Because Bennett won the prestigious award, he gets to take a trip to the National High School Music Theater Association’s workshop in New York where he will compete for a “Jimmy Award.” He says this is the student equivalent to a Tony Award. He will be going to dance classes and getting vocal coaching with people who have been working on Broadway for many years. He will also get to perform some pieces in the hopes of being picked as one of the best in the program. A panel of judges reviews the performances by the students and decides who should get that year’s “Jimmy Award.”
For more information about Hillcrest High School’s theater program, visit CanyonsDistrict.org.