Overlake’s Betsy Button, left, and Redmond High’s Ben Broughton and Jing Jing Wang. Courtesy of Jeff Carpenter

Lights, dancing, acting: Redmond-area students honored for theater prowess at 5th Avenue Awards

These are shining moments to remember.

Seventeen local high school performers stepped into the spotlight to garner top honors, and one young lighting designer had the bright attention turned his way with a victory at the 15th Annual 5th Avenue Awards Honoring High School Music Theater on June 12 at Benaroya Hall in Seattle.

The Overlake School’s Betsy Button won for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Featured Ensemble Role as Jenny Hill in “Big Fish,” and Overlake’s Bryce Harnick also won for Outstanding Lighting Design in “Big Fish.”

Redmond High School (RHS) won for Outstanding Choreography in “Chicago,” and 16 students strutted their stuff with a three-minute, 40-second performance of “All That Jazz” at the event. Choreographer Ben Broughton and assistant choreographer Jing Jing Wang accepted the award.

“I’m supremely proud of the work that Ben and Jing Jing did on ‘Chicago,’” said RHS drama teacher Misty Doty. “They were challenged with a difficult task on a difficult show.”

Doty added that 5th Avenue has recognized RHS consistently over the last 10 years, and it’s an honor to have the students acknowledged for their hard work and be given the opportunity to perform in front of its statewide peers.

“At RHS, we strive to produce high-quality educational theater and create an atmosphere of family and belonging. I think that showed in the performance on June 12 and in the sportsmanship that the Redmond kids showed to the other evening’s winners,” Doty said.

Nearly 2,500 Washington state teenagers, many in costumes representing their schools’ musical theater productions, attended the event, which featured awards in 21 categories, ranging from Outstanding Overall Musical Production to Outstanding Lobby Display.

Harnick, a sophomore to be, said the atmosphere in Benaroya Hall was electric during the event.

“When someone won, everyone was cheering and screaming. It was loud,” he said.

While it was thrilling to be recognized and get swept up in all the energy at the event, the winners’ speeches were meaningful and thoughtful and students came armed with a list of mentors to thank, said Erin Gabriel, Overlake’s arts department chair and music director.

“It was a celebration of all the kids who took a risk” to get on stage and perform throughout their high school careers, said Gabriel, adding that Overlake’s theater mission is to foster a love of collaboration, community and creativity and to learn about each other.

STUDENTS’ HARD WORK PAYS OFF

RHS’s Broughton estimates he spent hundreds of hours with “Chicago” choreography on his mind — and at the tips of his toes while he was performing as well.

At the 5th Avenue event, he grasped the trophy in one hand and lifted it over his head at the awards podium. It was a job well done.

The words eventually came.

Broughton was “speechless at first,” and then he took a second to let the moment sink in before digging into his speech. “Wow,” he said in a soft voice while speaking with the Reporter about the experience.

“It was crazy because it was the first show I’ve choreographed,” he said. “Even the nomination was amazing. It felt good that all my hard work had paid off.”

The recent graduate said he felt pressure to win a choreography award because a former student had earned one. With the achievement now in the bag, he’ll head on to Roosevelt University of Chicago’s college of performing arts and begin working toward a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater with a dance emphasis.

Performing with his fellow Mustangs at the event was “something magical we can all share,” he said. “It’s a very unique, unified feeling. We’re so close knit, it feels good, right.”

Wang is proud of Broughton and learned copious choreography skills working alongside him during “Chicago.”

“It was really incredible to see how much passion he has for it,” said Wang, who will co-choreograph “Music Man” with Emma Drazkowski — who played the lead role of Roxy in “Chicago” — next year. Both girls will be juniors in the fall.

Wang said it’s sure to be an exciting and pressure-packed experience. She’s ready to give it a whirl.

Theater is an important part of her life and she thrives being around performers who are equally as ardent about and dedicated to the stage life.

Choreography is about storytelling: “I like to be able to share the experience with the audience. Learning with the cast and crew is an intimate experience,” Wang said.

On the Overlake acting front, Gabriel said that Button is a driven performer who is a natural for the theater realm.

She loves acting in lead and ensemble roles and it “will really serve her well for whatever she does in her life,” said Gabriel, noting that Button will attend Williams College in Massachusetts in the fall.

The role of Jenny Hill wasn’t a huge one, but Button took every ounce of it and made it sparkle, Gabriel added.

As for Harnick, Gabriel enjoyed watching the youngster’s dedication to his lighting-design craft whisk him to the victory podium.

Mentors Bill Johns and Emily Blackburn helped foster a deep interest for Harnick in the behind-the-stage scene, and Gabriel remembers watching the boy’s eyes light up when they attended the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. (Harnick also credits former Overlake lighting designer Harriet Sinclair for lending a hand.)

“He was in heaven,” Gabriel said about the Shakespeare fest, adding that he’s extremely focused on telling a story through lighting.

Harnick said that before putting his lighting design into play, he reads the script; if it’s a musical, he listens to the soundtrack and then begins getting a feel for the show. He spends many hours developing cues, often spending some lunches, free periods and after-school time molding everything into shape.

Lighting design is often on his mind and he’ll get ideas from watching shows at local theater companies or at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. He recalls reading a magazine article where a prominent lighting designer said to look in everyday life for different sources of light.

He forms everything into his own arsenal and come show night, his cues are all set and programmed into the lightboard and unleashed into the auditorium.

When Harnick witnesses his creation, it “helps me appreciate what I’ve done,” he said.

• Overlake’s Elle Parks also earned Special Honors: Student Achievement.

Bryce Harnick displays his award. Courtesy of Jeff Carpenter

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