When Salt Lake City’s Eccles Theater revealed which shows would be staged in the coming year, the voices of Hillcrest High students belting “You Will Be Found” from the Tony Award-winning “Dear Evan Hansen” were a pitch-perfect part of the publicity blitz.
Along with “Dear Evan Hansen,” Broadway at the Eccles will mount such box-office draws as “Frozen,” “Miss Saigon,” “A Christmas Story,” “Anastasia,” and “Fiddler on the Roof.” The lineup was rolled out on Friday, March 22 — the same day that theatergoers could renew their season tickets. The Hillcrest students who performed the “Dear Evan Hansen” song on Monday said they hoped to snap up expected-to-be-scarce tickets to the show that resonates with audiences of all ages but has proven particular popular with teenagers.
Hillcrest drama teacher Josh Long said his students were given less than a week to learn the song before the filming. It was particularly hectic, Long said, because rehearsals had to be scheduled around planned choir performances and the school’s March 14-16 production of “Akhnaton,” which was the first time the Agatha Christie play had been performed in Utah.
Long said his students were asked to do the performance after Eccles Theater officials saw — and were impressed with — Hillcrest’s performance at last year’s Utah High School Musical Theater Awards at which the school won Best Musical for “Les Miserables.” The show’s star, Bennett Chew, also won the Best Actor for his portrayal of Jean Valjean.
As part of the Monday rehearsal, Long said, the students were able to Skype with a New York-based director who gave them tips on how to perform the song for the cameras.
Standing between seats in the auditorium where she’s made countless memories during musicals and plays, senior Megan Wheat said it was thrilling to receive tips from entertainment-industry insiders who work with some of the country’s top stage talents. Among the notes: Students were encouraged to find balance between the acting and singing — and to err on the side of performing with emotion and intent rather than a rote recitation of words to the song.
Senior Ian Williams, who was cast as Link Larkin in Hillcrest’s fall production of “Hairspray,” said the experience helped cap his last few months at the school before graduation.
“That was one of the coolest things I have been able to do,” Williams said after the filming wrapped Monday morning. “This is kind of something you hope for, but you don’t ever know if you’ll ever be able to do it.”
A shutterbug at Jordan High is helping Canyons District send wishes of a picture-perfect yuletide.
A photograph taken by 17-year-old Shellby Carvalho shines bright on the cover of the District’s 10th annual holiday card, which is sent to local legislators, Utah’s members of Congress, and Canyons’ major supporters.
The star of Carvalho’s photo is her snow-white dog, Cali, a 2-year-old Great Pyrenees and Labrador mix she adopted from the Humane Society of Utah.
“Because my dog is white, I thought that was a symbol of simplicity and purity, which is what the holiday season is all about,” says Carvalho, who takes Advanced Placement art classes and is the school’s Sterling Scholar candidate in the visual arts category.
“I’m so happy that I was able to make it happen,” she said about the photo shoot, which required stringing up colorful lights well before the holiday season and getting the dog to sit still long enough to snap the shot. She also edited the images and used a photo-enhancement program to complete the design.
Carvalho plans to major in environmental studies at Westminster College next fall.
This is the fifth year Canyons District has asked students to create artwork for the official holiday card. Students from Corner Canyon, Brighton, Alta and Jordan Valley School have provided artwork in previous years.
The bright lights of Broadway beckoned to Bennett Chew. The Hillcrest High graduate last week traveled to the Great White Way to learn from the singing and dancing superstars of the stage.
Chew earned the right to attend the National High School Musical Theater Awards — and to be considered for a Jimmy Award, the student equivalent of a Tony Award — by winning the Best Actor category at the 8th annual Utah High School Musical Theater Awards in May at the Eccles Theater in Salt Lake.
The University of Utah-bound student, who starred as Jean Valjean in Hillcrest’s “Les Miserables,” which also won the state’s award for Best Musical and Best Scenic Design, spent nine days being coached by industry professionals. Jimmy winners were then picked by a panel of judges.
Although Chew didn’t walk away with a Jimmy, his final year as a Husky theater kid was full of honors. Not only did Hillcrest earn the top honor at the state musical-theater contest, the Hillcrest drama students won first place at the Utah High School Activities Association’s 6A drama competition and the sweepstakes award at the Utah High School Shakespeare Festival in Cedar City.
Winning all three honors in one year — the "triple crown" of Utah prep theater — has been done once before. Led by teacher Josh Long, Hillcrest captured all three awards in 2011-2012, when the school’s production of “Aida” earned the Best Musical honor and a national award for its star, Malia Morley.
“Our students work really, really hard,” says Long, who has directed 50 shows since starting at Hillcrest in 2009. “And they very passionate about what they do. It is great to see them be rewarded for that.”
Gloria Swenson, who served as president of the school’s theater group, says being in leadership for her senior year, especially in a time full of buzz, applause and recognition, has been “one of the coolest things I have ever got to do … I feel very honored.”
Swenson recalls with a smile the final performance of “Les Miserables,” which sold out every night of the show’s Nov. 16-20 run. Folks wanted to see the show so badly they were willing to pay for entrance without guarantee of a seat. “I remember the last night,” she said, “and seeing people standing in the back.”
Three years ago, Gabriel Aina thought his high school goals would be met on the soccer field. Instead, he found his voice on the stage. Without hesitation, Aina, whose favorite production at Hillcrest was “Hamlet,” attributes the school’s success in theater to Long’s teaching style.
“He isn’t willing to let us drop the ball,” he says. “He teaches us that we can do hard things in life.” One of those hard things, Aina said, was learning to sing in front of a crowd, which he says he “rather dislikes” doing, even though his role as Marius in “Les Miserable” was vocally demanding.
Sterling Larsen lives in the boundaries of another high school but decided to enroll at Hillcrest to be involved in the theater program. Larsen, who was accepted to Brigham Young University, has been in nearly a dozen shows while studying at the Midvale school. “If I had not done theater,” he says, “I would be a completely different person today.”
Canyons District knows the invaluable impact our art teachers have on students. From music to a multitude of mediums, art gives a voice to those who can’t speak. It can provide a haven for struggling students and enhance the learning process.
Two of Canyons’ superstar advocates for the arts have received recognition from the Utah State Office of Education — with support from the Sorenson Legacy Foundation — for their contribution to the arts in Canyons District. Arts Consortium Chair Sharee Jorgensen received the 2018 Sorenson Legacy Award for Excellence in Arts Administration, and Sandy Elementary Music Specialist Debbie Beninati received the 2018 Sorenson Legacy Award for Elementary Music Instruction.
These educators have been recognized for their willingness to “embrace the arts with excellence in their practice,” according to the Utah State Office of Education.
Jorgensen, CSD’s Fine Arts Specialist, got her start in the classroom teaching middle school and high school band, orchestra, guitar, choir, theater and general music. A decorated educator, she is constantly looking for ways to give back and now serves as Executive Director for the Utah Music Educators Association. “She goes above and beyond her job description, constantly asking what she can do to make our jobs easier,” says Corner Canyon theatre teacher Case Spaulding. “From creating the District costume warehouse to getting set donations….and bringing us treats on our birthdays, she truly cares about each individual person.”
After this weekend, the “once-in-a-lifetime” bucket lists of the singers in Hillcrest’s Vocal Ensemble and their director are a little lighter. Travel together to New York City? Check. Perform with a Grammy-winning composer and conductor? Check. Sing in Carnegie Hall? Check, check, and check.
After more than a year of planning and practicing, Hillcrest choir director RaNae Dalgleish and her 33 vocal ensemble students took a red-eye to New York City during Spring Break to prepare for a performance in Carnegie Hall on Sunday, April 8. They were joined by high school choirs from Dubai, New Jersey, Tennessee, Canada, Wisconsin, Texas, Ohio, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and California for the Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) performance of The Music of Eric Whitacre.
The opportunity to perform in Carnegie Hall is a remarkable experience, but to perform composer Eric Whitacre’s music with him as the conductor is even more significant, said Dalgleish who also performed with her students on Sunday. “This is huge,” she said. “This is a once in a lifetime experience for the kids. I knew that going in, just to work with Eric Whitacre alone is monumental because he is a rock star in the music world.”
Dalgleish responded to an advertisement on Facebook more than a year ago when she saw the potential for her students to have such a unique experience. Her choir from the 2016-2017 school year auditioned for the performance, and they found out in December 2016 that the 2017-2018 choir had been accepted to perform at the event that was described by BBC Music as the “No. 1 North American Live Event Choice for classical music.”
“The Vocal Ensemble received this invitation because of the quality and high level of musicianship demonstrated by the singers,” said Dr. Jonathan Griffith, Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for DCINY, in a news release about Hillcrest’s participation. “These wonderful musicians not only represent a high quality of music and education, but they also become ambassadors for the entire community.”
The choir began working on nine pieces for Sunday’s performance right away, recording and sending videos intermittently to the organization to ensure they would be prepared for the big stage. The students performed “The Rumor of a Secret King” by John Mackey, three spirituals by Moses Hogan, and several songs composed by Whitacre, including “Seal Lullabye,” which was originally written for a Disney movie that was later cancelled.
Whitacre is a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music who has conducted choral and instrumental concerts around the globe, including with the London Symphony Orchestra.