BY KAREN BILLING
Two young Carmel Valley actors are headed to Broadway this summer after shining bright at the “2013 Old Globe Honors and The Road to The Jimmy Awards.”
Canyon Crest Academy senior Hunter Schwarz and Carmel Valley resident/Pacific Ridge School senior Annika Gullahorn won in the categories of Leading Actor and Actress in a High School Musical and will receive an all-expenses paid trip to New York City to participate in the National High School Musical Theater Awards/The Jimmy Awards Competition on July 1 at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.
Hunter and Annika also won $1,000 scholarships during the final round of the competition, held May 20 on the Donald and Darlene Shirley Stage in the Old Globe Theatre.
For Hunter, 18, the fourth time in the contest was a charm — he’s been competing in it since he was a freshman. Last year as a junior he made it to the semifinals and tied for third place.
“I was simply overwhelmed,” Hunter said of being named a winner. “It was an incredible feeling…I really, really wanted it this year and I worked especially hard.”
Hunter has been performing in shows since the second grade when he had his first role as “Samuel the shepherd boy.” He has performed in Broadway Bound Youth Theatre and is a member of CCA’s theater Conservatory program.
His most favorite role he ever played was the lead in “Bat Boy: The Musical” in his freshman year at Canyon Crest. He said it was amazing to come in as a new freshman and snag the lead and perform alongside an “all-star cast.”
“I love musical theater because it incorporates all of the things I love to do. I love to sing, I love to act and dance, and musical theater is an opportunity to do all three in one location,” Hunter said.
In the Old Globe competition, the young actors had to sing one song from a show they were a lead in and then perform a song of an opposite genre to showcase a different side of their acting ability and voice.
The finalists from that round of auditions went onto the semifinals where they learned group numbers on top of their two solo audition pieces, which were performed in front of an audience and panel of judges at the Old Globe.
Group numbers included the opening number from “Kiss Me Kate”; “Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do” from “Bye Bye Birdie”; and the group closed with a mash-up of “Our Time” and “Beautiful City” from the musicals “Merrily We Roll Along” and “Godspell” respectively.
Hunter said the competition isn’t limited to just the show — judges are keeping a close eye on the performers while they go through rehearsals for the group numbers, checking out work ethic, how quickly they pick up choreography, how they take direction, essentially who will best embody the Old Globe in New York City.
For the contest, Hunter performed a solo (and worked a puppet) from “Avenue Q” in which he played the starring role of Princeton at CCA this year and the song “Sailing” from “A New Brain,” an off-Broadway show.
While Hunter has participated in theater for years, Annika is relatively new to the stage.
“I’m not one of those people who have been doing theater their whole life. I actually got into it at the beginning of high school and it was at that time when I started to fall in love with it,” said Annika, who describes herself as a “complete musical theater nerd.”
Annika was inspired to get into theater by her “really, really great” teacher at Pacific Ridge, Alison Trattner.
Due to a busy academic schedule, Annika was only able to participate in Pacific Ridge productions, none outside of school. She kept busy at Pacific Ridge running a women’s empowerment group on campus, NKT, that she started her freshman year. Additionally, she just returned from a school trip to South Africa two weeks ago where she saw first hand things she learned in her Post Colonial African History course.
Of her theater roles at Pacific Ridge, her favorite was “The Baker’s Wife” in “Into the Woods.”
“She’s quite special that one, I just loved every moment of that show,” Annika said. “I’ve never been able to connect to a character as I was to The Baker’s Wife.”
In the Old Globe competition, Annika performed “Moments in the Woods” from “Into the Woods,” a song that features one of her favorite lyrics from the show, “Oh, if life were made of moments, even now and then a bad one! But if life were only moments, Then you’d never know you had one.”
Annika also sang the “beautiful, beautiful” song “Love Never Dies” from the musical of the same name, a sequel to “Phantom of the Opera.”
Being named the winner was quite a shock to Annika as she said she was so impressed by everyone who competed. It came down to the final two, she and another girl and they were holding hands in a “death grip.”
“I told myself I don’t care who wins because it was such an amazing experience but when they said my name I thought ‘Is that correct?’,” Annika recalled. “I was shaking so hard I almost tripped over the steps. I could not believe it, I still cannot believe I get to do what I get to do at the end of June.”
Both Hunter and Annika will leave on June 25 for New York City to start two weeks of rehearsals for The Jimmy Awards. They will learn group numbers and medleys with winners from 31 regional companies, and additionally take master classes and have private coaching and interviews with theater professionals.
The hosts of the Jimmy Awards are Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, Tony Award-nominated actors from Broadway’s “Cinderella.” Hunter and Annika will perform at the Minskoff where “The Lion King” is staged on Broadway.
“It’s a huge deal,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be the greatest experience of my life.”
“It’s going to be a lot of hard work but it will pay off when we get to stand on that stage and perform and everything just comes together,” Annika said.
In addition to the thrill of performing on Broadway, three finalists will be selected and a winner will receive a $10,000 scholarship.
In the fall, Hunter will attend UC Santa Barbara where he will major in physics with a minor in French — “I’m big into academics as well as theater,” he says, but notes he hopes to keep performing with local Santa Barbara theater groups.
Annika will actually be making a return trip to New York at the end of summer as she will attend Syracuse University and plans to study acting.
“I’m really excited for next year and doing all of the productions they have to offer,” Annika said.
Winners of all Globe Honors categories received $1,000 scholarships, and the winners of the Musical, Spoken and Technical Theater categories will participate in a two-day trip to Los Angeles where they will go behind the scenes at Center Theatre Group, attend a casting workshop and take in a show.