By Diane Y. Welch
Entertainment is likely in his future, says Canyon Crest Academy (CCA) student Cameron Chang and it appears that he has the talent for such a career path.
His performance in the lead role of Jean Valjean in CCA’s production of the musical “Les Misérables” last spring brought standing ovations. It also brought him into the running for the new high school musical theater knock-out competition, The Ben Vereen Awards, when he was invited to compete as one of the top high school males in a leading role for the 2014 school year. CCA student Sam Tullie was also nominated as a top female lead for her “Les Misérables” role as Fantine, but illness prevented her from competing.
The first round was held at the Spreckels Theatre on June 7 when Cameron was successful in being selected as one of the top five male performers in San Diego and so advanced to the next round on June 14 competing with students from the southwest region, which included both San Diego County and Tucson, Ariz.
Co-hosted by Vereen, a world-renowned entertainer, and Marcella Lee of CBS News 8, the evening’s performance included an opening ensemble number “Magic To Do” from “Pippin” and a closing number “Light” from “Next to Normal,” performed by the full cast of 19 contestants, along with their individual solo performances.
The panel of judges included Brad Perry, Chach Snook, James Herbert, Jory Hancock, Teresa Sapien and Erinmarie Reiter. The event was co-sponsored by the Jacobs Family and the Spreckels Theatre, which allowed for discounted pricing of $1.50 per ticket.
In the audience were friends, family and people from the theater world of San Diego, said Cameron. “It was a very passionate audience,” he said.
The other four male lead finalists were Noah Castillero for his portrayal of Marius in “Les Misérables” at Classical Academy High School; Maximilian DeLoach for his portrayal of Finch in “How to Succeed in Business” at Carlsbad High School; Jonathan Norwood for his portrayal of Valjean in “Les Misérables” at Classical Academy High School; Martin Ortiz for his portrayal of Max Bialystock in “The Producers” at El Camino High School.
The top five female lead finalists were Aubree Bouche for her portrayal of Princess Winnifred in “Once Upon a Mattress” at La Costa Canyon High School; Jackie Foster for her portrayal of Jo in “Little Women” at Poway High School; Alexandria Loucks for her portrayal of Yum-Yum in “Hot Mikado” at San Diego School of Creative and Performing Arts; Olivia Pence for her portrayal of Fantine and Emma Tarr for her portrayal of Eponine, both in “Les Misérables” at Classical Academy High School.
Rehearsals for the San Diego and Tucson competitors were directed by Joey Landwehr, artistic director for J*Company Youth Theatre, someone with whom Cameron has previously worked. “I was really surprised and happy that he was directing the awards show because it made the experience a lot more relaxing,” said Cameron. “It was a really nice working environment and everyone was very supportive.”
Cameron sang “Bring Him Home” from Les Misérables and to demonstrate his versatility was also judged for a performance of a contrasting song; he chose “I Believe” from “The Book of Mormon.”
While he was not selected to advance to the finals for the opportunity to receive a trip to New York to compete in the National High School Musical Theater Awards, or Jimmy Awards as they are also known – Jonathan Norwood and Aubree Bouche were the winners –Cameron was appreciative for the chance to compete at the southwest regional level.
“It was an absolute honor to meet Ben Vereen, he’s the coolest, most amazing person,” said Cameron. As part of the experience the contestants did a master class with Vereen the day before their performance. “You can’t get that kind of teaching and insight anywhere else,” Cameron said.