Celebrating 10 years of the Blumey Awards and Launching the New Blumey Inspire Fund

Jan 8, 2024 / Blog
By Liz Rothaus Bertrand

“Thank you Blumenthal for this opportunity, for letting us young artists get the chance to be on stage and do this thing. It’s amazing… I just wanna say this one thing. My first Blumey Awards, I was in the very back row and I watched Sayo Oni win Best Actor. And seeing someone who looked like me… excel in this art form has pushed me so much. And so I wanna thank him and I’m gonna let any other Black boys doing theater [know] that I love you, I support you and you can do this. You belong here.”

Lance Toppin, 2023 Blumey Awards Best Actor Winner

Last June, Charlotte Country Day School senior Lance Toppin brought tears to many eyes and a roar of approval from the standing room only crowd at Belk Theater. After thanking his fellow nominees, family and teachers in his acceptance speech for Best Actor at the 2023 Blumey Awards, he went on to capture the essence of what the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ regional high school musical theater awards program has been about since its founding:


  • Inspiring and empowering young people.
  • Creating community.
  • And giving them the opportunity to dream big dreams.

For the last decade, the Blumey Awards has thrilled audiences and created life-changing memories for participants. Past nominees and winners who got their start on stage at Belk Theater have gone on to put their own mark on the world in a remarkable range of ways.


From Broadway to Hollywood, center stage, backstage, behind the camera, with nominations for Grammys, Tonys, VMAs, featured on magazine covers, they have followed their dreams in every imaginable field within the arts and beyond. And wherever they go, they carry their Blumey Awards experience with them.



Now, the program that has inspired thousands is celebrating the incredible achievements of the past and looking toward the future.


All proceeds from the Blumey Awards 10-Year Anniversary Celebration on January 13th at Belk Theater will support the new Blumey Inspire Fund, an initiative that will provide grant opportunities for high school students to pursue learning opportunities, purchase equipment or fill other gaps to ensure financial barriers don't stand in the way of blossoming talent.


“We've seen that there are different needs at the different schools,” said Andie Maloney, Blumenthal’s Vice President of Education. “... A lot of this is about empowering them.”


The fund will support both new efforts to launch musical theater programs and ensure current programs continue to thrive. Whether it's for a master class, to purchase costumes, to fix sound challenges or other issues, the Blumey Inspire Fund will help meet the needs identified by young artists.




Remarkable Achievements


For Tony Award-winning Broadway producer Thomas Laub, launching the fund has personal meaning. He grew up in Charlotte and was a two-time Blumey Award Best Actor nominee before heading to University of Michigan, where he started Runyonland Productions. His company is known for its bold, inclusive and critically acclaimed theatrical work. 


Thomas Laub Headshot.jpeg

(Thomas Laub)


The fund will “elevate access to arts education in the Carolinas,” Laub said, “…without which I certainly would not be in the position I am today.”


Laub said so many Charlotteans have gone on to successful theater careers that it’s caught the attention of prominent New York theater folk. There’s even a running joke about having to change the rules of the national high school musical theater awards — the Jimmys — so that Charlotte participants can’t win again.


That’s because in its first decade, Blumey Awards competitors have already won three times against performers from regional competitions all around the U.S. Those victories went to  Amina Faye in ‘16, Reneé Rapp in ‘18, and Bryson Battle in ‘21.


And that doesn’t even include other Charlotte standouts like Eva Noblezada — who didn’t win the overall Jimmys competition — but was discovered there and immediately offered a starring role on London’s West End, followed by celebrated turns on Broadway and film; or Sayo Oni (whom Toppin referenced in his speech) in Hadestown and Liam Pearce in How to Dance in Ohio, both currently on Broadway, and then others like former Blumey Award Best Actress nominee Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, who went on to star in the title role in Tina: The Tina Turner Musical on the West End and Broadway. There are extraordinary behind-the-scenes artists, too, like stage manager Ryan Gardner who has helmed productions on Broadway and national tour. 



A Nurturing Community Behind it All


Laub thinks these many success stories reflect the support and nurturing community that area arts educators have created for students. He said it’s not only salaried theater teachers but also outside experts, like vocal coaches, choreographers and teaching artists, who make the difference. They help generate excitement and create a safe space for learning and growth.


It’s “the 101 after school programs that were afforded at either little or reduced cost that we had access to,” he said, “and a lot of times it was educators doing that at their own cost. It was (renowned local choreographer) Linda Booth staying after rehearsal with me to make sure that I could, you know, do some semblance of what someone might call dancing.


“It was those moments, those very human moments, that make Charlotte so special.”


What the Blumey Awards Do For Young Musical Theater Artists


The program’s success, he said, is also a tribute to the work that Blumenthal’s president Tom Gabbard has done in the community. Laub described him as a generational leader in the arts, not only within the Carolinas but across the nation.



(Tom Gabbard, President and CEO of Blumenthal Arts)


“I always say that Tom Gabbard is Charlotte’s not-so-secret, secret weapon… I think the leadership that Tom brings to Blumenthal is truly unparalleled and I know that growing up in Charlotte I didn't understand that.”


Charlotte St. Martin, president of The Broadway League, also speaks with enthusiasm about Gabbard and what’s happened in Charlotte. The Broadway League is the national trade association for the Broadway industry, which oversees programs like the Tony Awards and the Jimmy Awards.



(Charlotte St. Martin, The Broadway League President)


“Under Tom Gabbard’s leadership, the Blumeys have become the model Jimmys program,” she said. “They even model the training for these students to what the Tonys training is… that’s just an incredible opportunity.”


She said efforts to expand support to more students through a program like the new Blumey Inspire Fund are essential.


“Talent has no boundaries,” she said, “and it’s really important that we find that talent, develop it and share it with the world.”


Just consider Blumey Awards alum Liam Pearce, who recently made his Broadway debut starring in “How to Dance in Ohio.”


For the majority of middle school and high school, he grew up in a very low-income house with family trouble at home. “I know there are hundreds and hundreds… of kids across Charlotte who are in similar situations,” he said.



(Liam Pearce starring in "How to Dance in Ohio" on Broadway)


Through those struggles, one thing kept Pearce going: a love for theater and opportunities to pursue it in the community without having to worry about the price, thanks to low cost or no cost programs.


“Finding that love and being able to harness that and learn from that and have the discipline and grow with that was super important,” he said “… I truly wouldn’t be the person I am today had I not had that access to that.”


Opening Doors By Investing in Young People


For Gabbard’s part, he says many Blumenthal Board members tell him establishing The Blumey Awards has been the organization’s greatest accomplishment.


“It really demonstrates that when we invest in our young people, open a few doors for them that many of them will go on to achieve great things,” Gabbard said. “But it's incumbent on us to create great programs like that …  so that they have a fair chance to succeed.”




One of the ways the Blumey Awards lives this vision is by creating an exceptional experience for young participants with skill-building workshops, top notch production values, and a first-rate team of industry professionals guiding the way.


“When we describe this as Tony Awards for high school musical theater in this region, we're serious about that,” he said. “It needs to be a bang-up show. These kids need to be showcased in a great way. It's a part of making an experience that will inspire them for years to come.”


Giving students the chance to work with professionals is not only an incredible learning experience, Gabbard added, it’s also an opportunity for Blumenthal to put that talent in front of Broadway pros, who may be in a position to make recommendations to their peers.




And the Blumey Awards legacy is not only about those alums who have found success on stage or behind-the-scenes, it’s about all the young people it inspires no matter what they decide to pursue. They take what they have learned and put it into practice in other ways.


“Ultimately, we're creating a small army of talented folks, who will be difference makers in their community in the arts or outside the arts,” he said, “but they're committed to accomplishing good things and I think that's a remarkable achievement to celebrate.”


As one of the nation's largest non-for-profit arts organizations, Blumenthal Arts is dedicated to enriching and improving the lives of each member of our community. But the truth is, successful community outreach efforts, such as The Blumey Awards, are not possible without support from donors like you! 

To make a donation to the new Blumey Inspire Fund, click the box below! We are honored and inspired by you as supporters of the arts. Every gift counts! Every dream deserves the opportunity of pursuit! 


More Info for 10th Anniversary Blumey Awards Celebration
A one-night-only event and fundraiser benefiting the Blumey Inspire Fund

10th Anniversary Blumey Awards Celebration

A one-night-only event and fundraiser benefiting the Blumey Inspire Fund
Jan 13, 2024