Originally published September 6, 2012 at 3:11 p.m., updated September 25, 2012 at 9:59 a.m.
PBS is bound for Broadway this fall with a three-part documentary series that tracks the real life stories of America’s top high school musical performers vying in the ultimate competition to find the nation’s best young theater stars.
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It’s non-stop drama when 60 talented teens — chosen from a nationwide casting call of over 50,000 students — descend on New York for an intensive week of “theatrical boot camp” and a shot at stage stardom and scholarships. The annual event, held each summer, is filmed for the first time ever in BROADWAY OR BUST, airing on consecutive Sunday nights, September 9-23, 2012 at 8 p.m.
Part competition, part performance and part non-fiction drama, BROADWAY OR BUST is the first-ever TV series to capture the behind-the-scenes coaching, grueling rehearsal schedule and highly charged atmosphere leading up to the National High School Musical Theater Awards (NHSMTA).
Popularly known as “The Jimmy Awards” — named in honor of renowned Broadway theatre owner and producer James M. Nederlander — this national competition plunges the country’s top teens into the eye of the theatrical storm for one intense, make-it-or-break-it week in New York City.
The whirlwind competition culminates in an awards event on a Broadway stage in front of a live audience and a panel of high-profile judges.
"The Casting Call" airs Sunday, September 9 at 8 p.m. - From a nationwide casting call of more than 50,000 high school students participating in 30 regional competitions, just 60 musical theater performers earn the right to participate for one week in the National High School Musical Theater Awards competition. Cameras follow these talented performers, the best in the country, to New York, where they meet their colleagues face-to-face.
As day one unfolds, they learn a new opening number from director Van Kaplan and choreographer Kiesha Lalama, get one-on-one coaching in music, theater, dancing and acting from some of Broadway’s top talent — including Leslie Odom, Jr. (“Smash”; "Rent"); Michael McElroy (Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for "Big River"; "Rent," "Miss Saigon"); Liz Callaway (Tony Award nomination for "Baby"; "Cats," "Miss Saigon") — and prepare for their solos in front of an influential group of judges. The episode ends with students wondering, “Do I have what it takes to make it on Broadway?”
"Boot Camp" airs Sunday, September 16 at 8 p.m. - Boot camp — there’s no other way to describe it. The second episode picks up where the first left off, launching headlong into the fire of the rehearsals, coaching and coaxing sessions that take place during one week of intense preparation for the auditions and the awards ceremony, popularly known as “The Jimmy Awards” in honor of renowned Broadway theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander.
Fighting fatigue, the eager performers quickly see what a learn-by-immersion experience is all about — and get an eye-opening look at what life is like on Broadway. The central drama of the episode lies in both the progress and setbacks of the individual performers.
As the week moves along and the final auditions loom, the program closes with another round of uncertainty. Participants dig in and launch into last-minute preparations for their auditions. Did boot camp pay off or not?
"And The Winner Is ..." airs Sunday, September 23 at 8 p.m. - The show at New York’s Minskoff Theatre is the final act and crowning highlight of the miniseries. The 60 finalists prepare for the big day. In just six hours, the lights will go up, the theater will be filled and, with the downbeat of the orchestra leader’s baton, it’ll be show time.
Going into the final competition awards show, all of the judges have a short list of top contenders, but during the show itself, they’ll be asked once again to give scores to the leading performers based on the group performances and individual medleys.
At intermission, the judges will cut the group to six finalists. Those six will perform their solos, and after another round, the judges will choose the two winners. In the words of director Van Kaplan, “This week … is going to shape their whole lives, whether they go into the theater or not.”