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Karen Almond, Karen Almond
Michael Ballam and his daughter Vanessa Ballam perform in this year's production of "Guys and Dolls."

Young Utah thespians will have their moment in the spotlight on Saturday, April 30, as the first Utah High School Musical Theater Awards take place.

Sponsored by Utah Festival Opera and the Utah Festival Conservatory of the Performing Arts, the awards ceremony will be held at the Kent Concert Hall at Utah State University. Finalists in the best musical, best actor and best actress categories will perform, and the program will be hosted by Michael Ballam, founding director of Utah Festival Opera.

Winners of the best actor and best actress categories will be sent to New York City to compete in the National High School Musical Theater Awards and participate in master classes, one-on-one coaching, contacts with theater professionals and more.

Sometimes called the high school "Tony Awards," the program gives much-needed recognition to Utah's young performers, Ballam says. "This is really important in a state where we have more musicians per capita than anywhere in the country. It's a competition that provides scholarship opportunities and also honors the hard work, not only of the students, but also of their families and their teachers, many of whom have dedicated their lives to teaching and working with youth."

Ballam also feels it will "raise the bar" of musical performance throughout the state. He hopes it will generate excitement for musical theater that will be contagious. "Our high schools and doing good musical theater, and they need to be acknowledged. I'd also like to see musicals come back into junior high schools. We need to champion young talent," he says.

The state does a good job of recognizing athletic achievement, and "the Sterling Scholar program is excellent in recognizing scholastic achievement. But we don't recognize excellence in the arts to quite the extent that we should. Our program, in fact, is patterned after the Sterling Scholar program."

Last fall, the Utah Festival Conservatory contacted every high school in the state to see if they wanted to participate. "We had 29 respondents, which we felt was very good for our first time. That represents over half the high school productions in the state," Ballam says.

Among this year's nominations are:

Best Musical: Hillcrest, "Cinderella;" Bountiful, "Crazy for You;" Pleasant Grove, "The Phantom of the Opera;" Legacy Prep, "Fiddler on the Roof;" Highland, "Footloose;" Tuacahn, "All Shook Up;" Logan, "White Christmas;" West Jordan, "West Side Story;" St. Joseph, "The Pajama Game;" Sky View, "The Wizard of Oz."

Best Actor: DeGrey Christensen, Salem Hills; Shelby Thomas, Uintah; Aaron Wilcox, Legacy Prep; Chris Whiteside, Tuacahn; Hayden Call, Bountiful; Cooper May Stus, Highland; Jacob Fresques, Morgan.

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Best Actress: Malia Morley, Hillcrest; Lauren Rathbun, Juan Diego; Rachel Paulson, Salem Hills; Sarah Allan, North Sanpete; Taylor Nefcy, St. Joseph; Katie Francis, Logan; Hanna Cutler, Bountiful; Kylie Major, Pleasant Grove.

In all, more than 20 different high schools are represented in the nominees, from all parts of the state.

Tickets for the awards ceremony range from $6.50 to $18.50; group and student discounts are available. For information, contact ccatickets@usu.edu or call 435-797-8022.

Email: carma@desnews.com