It is the dream of many talented high school students to someday perform on a Broadway stage. That dream came true for one talented Greece Athena student, MacKenzie Wright. Last July MacKenzie had the opportunity to perform on the Minskoff Theatre stage, home to Disney’s The Lion King. MacKenzie was competing in the National High School Music Theatre Awards aka the Jimmy’s. MacKenzie had recently won the Rochester Broadway Theatre Leagues Stars of Tomorrow’s Lead Actress Award as Elle Woods in Athena’s Legally Blonde, enabling her, along with Stephen Heller of Victor, to represent Rochester in the national competition in New York City.
Established in 2009, the NHSMTA is a national celebration of outstanding student achievement in high school music theater. Thousands of kids compete for the chance to travel to NYC. Sixty-two students from across the nation, experienced the opportunity of a lifetime, to perform and make their Broadway debut.
Activities commenced with rehearsals, master classes, private coachings and interviews with theatre professionals leading up to their live awards show. The ceremony was hosted by the Tony Award-nominated stars of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Laura Osnes (Cinderella) and Santino Fontana (the Prince). The awards presentation featured student performances by all 62 participants and solos by select finalists.
With less than a week to put together a Broadway show, music rehearsals began right away for the opening number. After rehearsal, the students also had a chance to get to know each other that night at a meet and greet pizza party. Mackenzie said that a typical day at the Jimmy’s was waking up in your NYU dorm room at 5:30am, putting on your dance clothes, breakfast at 7am, followed by an 8am rehearsal for the opening and closing number with all 62 student performers. Students would then split off into their vocal coaching rooms. MacKenzie’s coach was the Tony nominated Liz Callaway. Ms. Callaway has performed in numerous Broadway shows including Cats, Evita, and Miss Saigon. MacKenzie will be starring as Kim, the lead role made famous by Lea Salonga, in Athena’s upcoming production of Miss Saigon, the School Edition. This epic love story is from the same creative team as Les Miserables. Ms. Callaway has also provided the voices for animated characters including Anastasia in Anastasia and sang the theme song from the comedy series, The Nanny, which she sang with her sister. As MacKenzie’s vocal coach, Ms. Callaway drew upon her professional Broadway experience, helping her work on everything from vocals to stage presence.
She would critique them, thus helping the young actors to make stronger acting choices so that they were prepared for the solo portion of the competition. After lunch each day, they would have a new guest speaker that could range from a Broadway dance captain providing a Q &A followed by a mini dance lesson, to successful playwrights. MacKenzie then went back into rehearsal for her medley. She said the steps were rehearsed continuously until perfectly in sync and music notes were drilled. One night, the students were treated to the Broadway show, Annie starring Jane Lynch of Glee fame. By the time they landed into their dorm room beds it was midnight every night. Before MacKenzie would go to bed she would always look out her window at the beautiful NYC skyline and remember that she got to wake up each morning and do what she loves. She said the whole experience solidified her passion and readiness to pursue musical theatre as a career.
As her teacher, I was filled with pride and brought to tears to see one of my Greece Athena students shining so brightly upon that Broadway stage. MacKenzie is the definition of hard work, talent, kindness and professionalism. I count myself blessed to have been there on this, her first of many times to grace a Broadway stage.
(Submitted to Greece Life Magazine by Mrs. Dyer)