From Broadway and Hollywood, the entertainment capitals of the country, they're coming.
David Masenheimer, Neal Dodson and Austin Durant, all former Yorkers, are returning to judge the Encore awards and celebrate the year's best in York County high school musical theater.
Encore is the replacement for the Rosies, the award series that ran for eight years at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center. Hundreds of high-schoolers performed pieces from their spring musicals to sell-out crowds. The show's growth prompted a new name and a move to Central York High School this year.
In the show: The audience will see performances from a dozen schools, awards for top performers, and a musical finale bringing all of the schools together. The students will demonstrate their craft under the eyes of industry professionals.
"I loved being in musical plays in high school and was obsessed with it at the time," says Dodson, a 1996 Central York grad whose career has taken him from acting on stage and screen to running his own Los Angeles production company. "Getting to come back and see that same kind of energy that I remember having is thrilling."
"I'm going to be as nervous (about judging) as these kids are going to be" about performing, says Masenheimer. The 1977 York Suburban grad spent several years acting on Broadway, making his debut there as Inspector Javert in "Les Miserables." Now he runs his own custom furniture and prop business in New York City, an outgrowth of his interest in stage design.
The two will be joined in the judges' seats by Durant, a 2002 Northeastern High grad who was part of the Tony Award-winning cast of "War Horse" on Broadway in 2011. It's a dream team of professionals for students who may have their own dreams of stardom.
"I wanted to be in 'Les Miserables,' and I wanted to be in a new Broadway show, and I fulfilled those wishes pretty quickly," Masenheimer says. He recalls his first professional work as an actor, performing summer stock at Footlight Ranch in northern York County for about $10 a week plus room and board.
Arts in education: Both Masenheimer and Dodson stress the importance of arts education, whether high school plays and musicals or the childhood experiences they had doing community theater at York Little Theatre.
"There's an opportunity for confidence that comes from it, even if you aren't going to pursue it as a career," Dodson says. "It's a passion that can last through your life."
For students who do want to stick with a career in drama, the rewards can be gratifying.
"The travel part was great. The people that you meet and work with are amazing," Masenheimer says, describing tours across Europe and the United States and the excitement of being on stage despite the sometimes grueling six-days-a-week performance schedule. "I'm so fortunate to have gotten to do what I got to do."
The Encore judges' paths to fame in theater and film started on stages across York County. Who knows what this year's crop of talented performers will go on to accomplish?
See the show
The Encore high school theater awards show starts at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Central York High School, 601 Mundis Mill Road. The show will feature a musical selection from each participating school, a super-sized finale, and awards for the top performances.
The awards will honor the best male and female performers, the best production number with dance, the best overall performance, the most creative or original performance, the best small ensemble performance, and the judges' pick.
Encore tickets are $12. For more information, call 1-866-967-8167 or visit www.cyhspad.com.
The participating high schools and their spring musicals are:
Central York, "Oliver."
Dallastown, "Legally Blonde."
Hanover, "Phantom of the Opera."
South Western, "Once Upon a Mattress."
Spring Grove, "Annie Get Your Gun."
Susquehannock, "Phantom of the Opera."
West York, "Once Upon a Mattress."
York Suburban, "42nd Street."
- Reach Mel Barber at email@example.com.