Emotions ran high at the Durham Performing Arts Center on Sunday night as two students were chosen, from amongst 20 finalists, as the winners of the Triangle Rising Star competition. The finalists, however, kept their nerves under wraps through a jubilant opening performance of “We Go Together” from Grease and continued to maintain their cool through riveting individual performances.

The students perform and compete together, and, on Sunday night, two winners were chosen.

D.P.A.C., Theatre in the Park, Playmakers Repertory Company, and A.B.C. 11 hosted the event, which was presented by Bailey’s Fine Jewelry.

At stake in this contest was a one thousand dollar college scholarship and an all-expense-paid, week-long trip to New York City. Triangle Rising Star is a  non-profit and the qualifying regional competition for the National High School Musical Theater Awards.

Once in Manhattan, the two triangle winners will unite with and compete against winners from other local contests across the country—all brought together in New York for one week of professional training by the N.H.S.M.T.A.

The National High School Musical Theater Awards draws from roughly a thousand high schools throughout the nation and presents passionate students with an opportunity to gain experience, validation, and exposure.

This year, Sam Hamashima (Green Hope high school, ’14) and Anna Higginson (Sanderson high school, ’13) were judged the winners of Triangle Rising Star. They will travel to New York on June 25th for an intensive period of private coaching and rehearsals at the New Studio on Broadway (part of the N.Y.U. Tisch School of the Arts). Their week in New York will culminate in a Broadway debut at The Jimmy Awards, where they will compete against other winners from across the country for a Best Actor and Best Actress awards.

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Both Hamashima and Higginson turned in captivating solo performances Sunday night. They glowed as they absorbed the news of their victories and walked across the stage to claim their awards and checks. From the audience, their families and friends hollered and cheered their congratulations.

Hamashima gained a spot in the final round and ultimately a ticket to New York through his portrayal of Baker in Green Hope high school’s production of Into the Woods. On Sunday night he performed a portion of “No More” from the musical. His recital of the emotional song was compelling and unaffected. He appeared incredibly invested in the character and performance, and the portrayal was immensely believable.

Higginson’s role as Millie in Sanderson High School’s Thoroughly Modern Millie propelled her to victory. Sunday night she performed a portion of “Gimme Gimme,” showcasing her talent and impressive stage presence. She was extremely animated, and her delivery was delightful. Like Hamashima, Higginson also showed off a very impressive voice.

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Participants in the contest were judged based on their performance in their high school-affiliated musical theater production. Two judges attended each high school production, and their assessments counted for sixty-five percent of the participant’s total score. A D.V.D. of the performance, reviewed after the fact by a panel of judges, accounted for the other thirty-five percent. Participants who made it past this first round of judgment were asked back to perform individually in front of a panel of judges.

The final selection must have been a tremendously difficult decision, as all of the finalists were a joy to watch. Their passion was infectious and their talent undeniable.

Awards were also given out for Best Musical and Best Ensemble. Enloe high school won Best Musical for their production of Once Upon a Mattress. The Best Ensemble award was snagged by Durham Academy for Oklahoma!

A full band accompanied the group performances and provided music for each finalist as he or she performed a snippet of a song from his or her respective musicals. Music Director and Arranger Diane Pettaway led the band beautifully. After their individual performances and the announcement of the winners, everyone gathered again for a group rendition of “Season’s of Love” from the musical Rent. The finalists were directed by David Henderson.

If you happen to be in New York on Monday, July 1st, you could watch two of the triangle’s own performing at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway—competing for the coveted Jimmy Award. Anna Higginson and Sam Hamashima are headed for the city, and we wish them the best of luck.

Photos by Savannah Marcias