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The City Journals

Hillcrest High snags best choreography from Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards

Aug 12, 2020 02:31PM ● By Julie Slama

Hillcrest High School performing arts students tied for best choreography at the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards with their performance of “42nd Street.” (Photo courtesy of Hillcrest High School)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In a typical year a packed theater of high school students eagerly await the announcement of the Utah High School Musical Theatre Awards; this year instead had them at home watching screens.

In a world that has gone virtual because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the first-ever live streaming of the awards show, presented by the Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, announced state winners, including Hillcrest High, who tied for best choreography for the fall 2019 performances of “42nd Street.”

It was Hillcrest High’s first time winning best choreography; previously, the school has won 12 different musical theatre awards, said Josh Long, theatre director.

Chelsea Lujan, dance teacher and choreographer for the show, said the students took advantage of the summer after the musical was announced and were resourceful to prepare for “42nd Street.” 

“Once we decided on the show, I let the kids take the initiative to learn the (tap) steps,” she said. “If they learned them by August, then they would be on stage in the musical. Some of them watched videos, some took classes and some already knew how to tap so when we came together in the fall, we had a core group who could help teach the rest of the cast.”

About 90 cast members—productions company, dance company and 30 other dedicated students—provided extra help for other 80 members of the chorus, who found themselves dancing in the aisles during the performances.

“We had tappers helping non-tappers and they fed off each other and got more and more excited. They wanted to do their absolute best and succeed. They know what a Hillcrest musical is and our expectations and they put forth that effort, work hard and value that to create something that is spectacular. What was fun about the students learning it was hearing students tap in the hallways, shuffle under their desks—but I think it drove the teachers crazy,” Lujan said. 

The cast watched the awards individually, about 50 of them group chatted together.

“They were really happy they were honored for their hard work and saw how much what they did was appreciated,” Lujan said. “It was a little sad to be away from each other during this, but I’m glad they got the recognition.”

Hillcrest wasn’t the only area school to be recognized. Cottonwood High won for best orchestra with “Matilda” and Anthony Tibolla of Juan Diego Catholic High won best supporting actor.

Cottonwood High’s instrumental director, Amber Tuckness, immediately received texts from friends, congratulating her orchestra pit for their accomplishment.

“I immediately sent an email to my students afterward, telling them how proud I was of them,” she said. “It’s a nice recognition and I’m thankful that they were honored. We had a huge pit full of musicians and this award validates us. So many high schools don’t have live pit orchestras anymore, but we do and that is one of the reasons our musicals are so successful. Recorded music is not the same feel and it’s harder for the actors.”

Tuckness said that typically pit orchestra students are learning music on their own time; it is not part of their grade. Rehearsals may take 50 hours in advance and then, another 10 days of practicing with the actors.

Tuckness said that after the judges watched their performance, they came to the stage and talked to the students.

“The kids got the immediate feedback from the judges and got complimented on providing live music to the show. It was a fun show to do,” she said. “I’m glad they did the virtual awards ceremony; it was one less thing to take away from the kids this school year.”