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Valley high schools celebrated at 7th annual ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards

Queen Creek’s 'Newsies' receives award for best musical

The Best Lead Male and Female winners of the 2021 ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards stand onstage surrounded by balloons.

Tyler Baldwin (center) and Kristiana Corona were the 2021 best lead male and female winners.

June 18, 2021

One year after the ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards shifted to a virtual format due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the seventh annual awards ceremony took place May 29 in a hybrid, livestreamed format that included an in-person audience of about 50 patrons.

The awards recognize and celebrate Valley high school students and faculty who produce musical theater programs, with competition in 14 performance and technical categories. Each year, the best lead male and female winners continue to the Jimmy Awards in New York City, where they compete with students across the country.

Last year’s Jimmys were canceled entirely, leaving an entire class of musical theater students without a celebration of their hard work and closure for what may be the end of their performance careers.

For Desiree Ong, education program manager at ASU Gammage, the challenges of the last year made this year’s ceremony even more special.

“I mean, creatively, the teachers really this year had to change a lot,” Ong said. “Some of them had their performances outside. Some of them had it completely virtual — prerecorded. A couple of them had a smaller audience inside and they livestreamed that out.”

Tyler Baldwin, a recently graduated senior from Queen Creek High School, won the award for best lead male for his performance of Jack Kelly in “Newsies.” He will attend the University of Washington in the fall to study biology, with plans to attend medical school.

Baldwin, who started musical theater just two years ago as a sophomore, said he and his castmates “were really trying to do it justice for the people who graduated last year.”

“I came into ‘Newsies’ with the attitude that I wanted to make it the best show possible,” Baldwin said. “I wanted to ensure that it was one of the best shows that had ever been done at my school. I did my best to make sure that everybody felt great about themselves and everybody was working as hard as possible in preparation for the show so that our rewards were going to be even larger because … there’s a lot of potential for everything. And I was just really grateful that everybody contributed so well, and it’s really satisfying to see it pay off.”

Queen Creek’s “Newsies” also received the award for best musical. For a show with 80 cast members, Baldwin said they were prepared for the worst.

“We were a little bit worried about our show getting shut down for a while because … the first couple of weeks we weren’t even at the school, we were doing it virtually, and then when we came back everybody had to wear masks,” Baldwin said. “Especially when you’re singing, wearing a mask was a little bit difficult. We were lucky to be able to take them off and have the last couple of rehearsals and so that really just … upped the ante for everybody because everybody felt more energized and everybody felt relieved because … it’s been a year since anybody has put on a show.”

Kristiana Corona, a recently graduated senior from Hamilton High School in Chandler, won the award for best lead female for her performance of Ellie Blake in “Freaky Friday.” She will attend Kent State University in Ohio to study musical theater.

Corona, who started musical theater when she was 7 years old, said “there was talk … of if we should even do shows this year or whether the school would allow us to do shows this year.”

She said, aside from the obvious challenges with mask-wearing and audience capacity, the “really big hit” was funding for the shows, as the theater program had already paid for costumes and props for shows that were supposed to happen the previous year.

“I was head of fundraising, so I had to organize a lot of fundraisers to try and make up some of that money,” Corona said.

Despite the uncertainty and adjustments that had to be made for “Freaky Friday” to happen, Corona said it was all worth it when her name was called as the winner of best lead female.

“It was just this feeling of resolve,” Corona said. “During this year, as well, I had also done college auditions for musical theater programs, and that’s a lot of rejection. And so, just the rejection of COVID and everything kind of closing down for a while and not being the same, it kind of felt like it made it all worth it in a way. It kind of felt like all that stuff that happened, happened for a reason, for me to get here.”

“I think it all goes back to the show must go on,” Ong said. “And keeping that mantra going, even if it’s not the format that you were expecting. I think the High School Musical Theatre Awards, in particular — it’s a fun night. It’s a celebration. It targets high school youth. And so, all those things make it a fun event and a meaningful event for the staff because everyone can get behind that cause, celebrate high school musical theater. I’m really proud. I feel like it was a good practice for when we’re back in the theater all together. I think it’s a milestone of where we’ve come from a year ago and how bad COVID was, but now we’re taking baby steps. We had 50 people in the audience, and we’re going to work our way back up so that we’re ready to fully reopen.”

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