By Paula Hendrickson
While Fox’s musical series Glee has endured critical ups and downs over the years, both seasons of its addictive reality show spin-off, The Glee Project, have garnered strong reviews. Sure, some of the competitions were a bit contrived, but viewers love seeing young performers sing, dance and act their ways into the season finales.
Because the journey is so much fun, in the end the winners don’t really matter. (But Blake? Seriously? Yes, he can act and sing, but was boring and bland compared with his fellow finalists and dynamic performers Aylin and Ali, who were the real winners in my book.)
Season two of Oxygen’s The Glee Project has already ended, but on Sunday, Sept. 9, the debut of PBS’s new three-part documentary series, Broadway or Bust, will offer viewers an in-depth view of actual high school students preparing for and competing in the annual National High School Music Theater Awards’ “Jimmy Awards.” (The nickname is in homage to legendary theater producer James M. Nederlander.)
More than 50,000 students from across the country answered the casting call. Of those, just 60 talented kids were invited to an intensive, week-long theatrical boot camp in New York where the competition gets whittled down to six performers vying for top honors.
The first episode, “The Casting Call,” airing Sept. 9, highlights the 30 regional competitions winnowing down the talent pool from thousands to just two performers per region. Through that process, viewers will begin to meet the competitors and learn their backstories.
The Sept. 16 episode, “Boot Camp,” covers what goes into the grueling week-long boot camp — a combination of rehearsals, coaching sessions with Broadway pros, and performances that give participants a taste of what actual Broadway performers endure when auditioning or preparing for a show.
For most competitors, the boot camp either propels them to pursue careers in theater arts, or gives them a reality check that, talented though they are, they don’t have what it takes to succeed on Broadway.
The final episode, “And the Winner Is …” airs Sept. 23. This hour showcases students performing in groups before a packed Broadway theater. Six finalists are chosen to give solo performances, and a panel of judges (composed of theater experts) selects two winners.
Broadway or Bust isn’t a reality show invented for TV like The Glee Project; it’s a documentary about a long-running competition. But like The Glee Project, it’s not really about who wins. It’s about watching a group of talented kids practice, perform and wait for their turn to wow the audience.
Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Follow her on Twitter at P_Hendrickson and send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Sept. 5-11, 2012, issue