On stage, the ensemble faces backwards as the music begins. It is a fitting song from Roald Dahl's Willy Wonka musical.
Come with me
Slowly, performers – including two from Hillsborough County – begin to spin around and face the audience.
And you'll be
The voices grow louder as more turn around.
In a world of pure imagination
The song began a showcase performance at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, and its singers included two talented students who have honed their craft on Hillsborough County stages. Maggie Musco and Christian Meany spent 10 days this summer on an all-expense paid trip filled with workshops, rehearsals and more.
“I know this sounds cheezy,” said Musco, a Plant High School senior recalling that opening number, “but I almost started crying.”
Musco and Meany won their way to New York City through a competitive process that began with jurors coming to scout high school musicals last school year. Top performers in the outstanding lead actress and actor categories then auditioned at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts, with winners selected to represent the region. Only 72 students nationwide made the trip to compete for the Jimmy Awards.
In the showcase, participants appeared in multiple songs, including medleys featuring the characters that helped them earn the trip. Musco qualified with two different leading performances and appeared in New York as Wednesday Addams from “The Addams Family” musical. (She appears in this medley.)
Musco credits a fifth-grade teacher at Roosevelt Elementary for introducing her to musical theater and encouraging her to audition for a community production of “Annie.” She got her break at Plant while still in middle school because the high school needed additional performers for a show called “Alice vs. Wonderland.”
Since arriving at Plant as a freshman, she’s been a regular presence in director Dan Franke’s theater. “I’ve spent a majority of my time in this auditorium,” Musco said. “I’ve put on shows with a bunch of amazing people and gotten to work with an amazing director who cares about his students.”
For Franke, the respect is mutual.
“Watching Maggie grow as a performer for the last couple of years and sitting at the Straz listening to her name called as the Broadway Star of the Future was the highlight of last year for me as a theater educator,” he said. “To then follow her to New York City and watch her perform on a Broadway stage with the amazing and talented kids she was surrounded by, I felt pure joy knowing those moments would change her life, maybe forever.”
Musco is eyeing a potential career in the theater. Elpheba from “Wicked” is her favorite character, Tony-winner Sutton Foster her favorite Broadway star. But it’s not all singing, acting and dancing for Musco, whose course load at Plant includes five Advanced Placement classes and whose potential career interests also include environmental science. The schedule means much of her free time – even in the wings or backstage at rehearsals – is spent studying.
Musco’s colleague on the trip balanced a similarly packed agenda these past few years. Meany lives in Valrico and graduated from a private school that doesn’t stage musicals, but he welcomed the opportunity to participate in musical theater at Alonso – 30 miles from his home.
As a junior, he came to Alonso to play Benny in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.” This past year, he starred as Edward Bloom in “Big Fish,” based on the novel and Tim Burton movie. That role, under the direction of Lisa Vorreiter, propelled him to New York. (View his performance in this medley.)
“When she directs, it all just comes naturally,” Meany said. “She doesn’t change her opinion 100 times. It just comes right to her.”
Meany was already an active performer in community theater, averaging about four shows a year at the Straz Center. Like Musco, he recalled those first few moments of the showcase, when he slowly turned around to see parents and Broadway performers including the company from “The Lion King,” which does eight shows a week on the same stage where Meany and Musco performed.
Next for Meany: Florida State, where he plans to study both theater and political science. But he will miss his time at Alonso.
“This program,” he said recently in the Alonso theater lobby, “is amazing.”
To learn more about Alonso High School, visit http://alonso.mysdhc.org/
To learn more about Plant High School, visit http://plant.mysdhc.org/View Full Album