Glenwood High’s Cheney up for state theater award, trip to New York
Abbie Cheney gave up volleyball to focus on theater as a high school sophomore, but her hit percentage is higher than ever.
She’s one of five students in the running for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in Colorado’s Bobby G musical theater awards — essentially the Tony Awards for high school musicals.
She’s nominated for her performance as Reno Sweeney in this year’s Glenwood Springs High School musical, “Anything Goes.” If she wins, she goes to New York to represent Colorado at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. This is a feat that no local high schooler has accomplished.
The Bobby G Awards are run by the Denver Center of Performing Arts and are designed to be a celebration of high school musical theater throughout Colorado. This year, 40 schools signed up to have their shows judged by theater professionals. Participating programs receive feedback, as well as potential nominations to the annual awards show.
The judges use an exhaustive list of evaluation criteria to identify top performers in each category, which range from stage presence to vocals to dancing and beyond. Abbie will find out the outcome of her nomination Thursday at the award show in the Buell Theatre.
Claudia Carson, Bobby G Awards program coordinator, said that in the last two years, the program expanded to include schools all over the state instead of staying in the Denver area. Since then, organizers have been impressed by the talent around the state.
“I saw Abbie in ‘Legally Blonde’ last year, and ‘Anything Goes’ this year, and I was just amazed by the quality of the program at Glenwood Springs High School,” Carson said. “Abbie particularly just shined in both productions.”
Abbie began her performing arts career through the annual musicals put on by the choir program at Glenwood Springs Middle School. For her freshman year, Abbie decided to take Drama I as an elective with English and drama teacher Kate McRaith.
“I noticed right away that she was a talented actress with great comedic timing. She’s very funny,” McRaith said. “She was also confident and had great stage presence. Many of the best actors have the ability to make rapid connections, and she definitely had that.”
McRaith also said that Abbie had not had much vocal training before high school, but was brimming with raw talent. She has spent the last couple of years trying to hone her craft with exercises and lessons from choir teacher Shanti Gruber, as well as Amy Moritz and Dory Light.
Sophomore year, Abbie decided to halt to her athletic career in order to focus more on theater. She was cast in a larger supporting role, as Paulette in “Legally Blonde.”
That was also the first year that the musical was evaluated by the Bobby Gs. Abbie said the entire musical cast, including the choir, orchestra, and lighting and staging, received higher scores this year, herself included.
“I got mostly 5s this year, 4s and 5s,” Abbie said. “In ‘Legally Blonde,’ I got a few 5s and I was so proud of them, but this year it was down the line. It was really cool.”
Based on her scores, McRaith was hopeful that Abbie would receive a nomination.
“She was almost off the charts in her scoring and comments,” McRaith said. “I found myself at the time thinking, ‘Well, if she doesn’t get a nomination with these scores, then I don’t know who would.’”
When McRaith found out that Abbie had in fact received a nomination, she struggled all day to keep the information to herself. Right before the press release came out, she visited Abbie’s class to deliver the news firsthand.
“She was talking to me about doing lights for a show, and then before she left, she said, ‘One more thing,’ and pulled out the nomination confirmation,” Abbie said. “I just broke down and cried, and Mrs. McRaith announced it to the class. Everyone was clapping, and I was just sobbing.”
Abbie admits that when she first heard about the potential nomination, she was not sure she wanted it because it was likely going to be the scariest thing she did in high school. Abbie will perform a medley with the other nominees and two songs of her choice in front of a sold-out crowd at the award ceremony.
“I think that if I just direct all my nervous energy to doing the best that I can, I’ll be fine, and it’ll be in my control,” Abbie said. “It’s not selfish to be reluctant, but I think it definitely is downplaying the opportunity, because it is a big deal, and if I just say, ‘Oh, I’m too nervous,’ then that’s not doing the opportunity justice.”
McRaith and Abbie both said her success is a credit to the full cast.
“You can have a star, but if you don’t have a good show to put the star in, you don’t have anything,” McRaith said. “The cast was fabulous. I think this was the best show we’ve done, and we’ve done some great shows in the past.”
Winning the nomination has also given her the push that she needed to commit to pursuing a degree in performing arts in college, although she does not know where she wants to attend.
“I have only ever known how I perform against the 1,000 kids in our high school, but it is nice to know how I fare against other performers. It gives me good perspective,” Abbie said.
The nomination will reflect positively on the high school’s program as well.
“We are building this program that people speak highly of, and we are very proud for receiving the kind of feedback that we did from the Bobby Gs,” McRaith said. “It’s great to have people outside of our community recognizing that valuable stuff is happening here.”
McRaith stresses that regardless of whether Abbie wins the Bobby G, she has already achieved something tremendous.
“To be in the top five leading actresses from over 80 in the state is no easy task at all. She has worked so hard and done the whole thing with a smile on her face,” McRaith said.
Abbie is in the top five in the state — as a junior, at that. McRaith is excited to have her back for her senior year’s production, which will be the “Addams Family” in spring 2017.
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