As many of you know, Playhouse Square is proud host of The Dazzle Awards. Since its inception almost 6 years ago, The Dazzle Awards presented by Pat and John Chapman recognizes excellence in Northeast Ohio high school musical theater programs and provides arts education opportunities for students. With such a wealth of amazing young talent on showcase each year, it was no suprise to us when we learned two of our Dazzle Awards alums are now making waves in New York City theater.
Two Best Actor Nominees from the first Dazzle Awards in 2016, Colin Trudell and Steven Huynh, now working actors, find fate bringing them together once more as they both make their New York theater debut in Jim Henson's Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas at the New Victory Theater this holiday season. We caught up with our hometown stars to talk all things Dazzle and Debuts.
It’s been a fun road since the Dazzles! After high school I took a gap year and then attended Texas State University where I got my BFA in Musical Theatre. At school I played roles such as Laurie in Little Women and Georg in Spring Awakening. The pandemic definitely caused the latter half of school to be a bit unconventional, but I still had the most amazing experience. I graduated this past May and moved to New York in the beginning of August. I was fortunate enough to sign with a great agency after school, which is how I came to join the company of Emmet Otter!
I like to describe the show as a big bundle of joy and love. Emmet and his Ma are quite poor, but that does nothing to dampen their spirits as they approach the holiday season. The show centers around Emmet and his Ma both entering the town talent contest in an attempt to win the grand prize that would allow them each to get the other the Christmas present of their dreams. The show explores Emmet’s relationship with his Ma and his dear friends and seeks to understand what it really means to be joyful. It emphasizes that wealth is much much more than money. No one in the town has much, but they all have each other, which really is more than enough. Also, if you love puppetry, this is the show for you.
Cast of EMMET OTTER'S JUG-BAND CHRISTMAS Richard Termine
It has been so fun to reconnect with Steven! This is the first professional job I’ve had as an actor, so I was a bit nervous going into rehearsals, but when I learned that Steven was in the cast as well it took a huge weight off of my shoulders. We have both grown so much since doing the Dazzles, so it has been awesome to bond over our experience as growing artists.
Being in the rehearsals for the Dazzle Awards and then performing at Playhouse Square was the first time that I ever considered the possibility of doing this as a career. It broadened my perspective on performing and gave me a huge confidence boost to believe that I could actually continue doing this. Before doing the Dazzle awards program, I had plans to study journalism in college, and after the Dazzles I knew that I wanted to continue, or really begin, studying musical theater.
I have always hung onto the memory of what it was like backstage in the dressing rooms on the night of the performance. You had kids from high schools all over Cleveland hanging out and getting ready to go onstage and high-fiving and congratulating each other - it was such a fun and supportive atmosphere and it felt so good to be a part of.
Colin Trudell & Steven Huynh and fellow 2016 Dazzle Best Actor Nominees.
My advice for anyone participating in the Dazzles is to be present. It is such a special program and, from what we have all learned from the pandemic, no experiences are guaranteed, so when you are there, be there fully. Listen to your peers sing even when it’s not your turn. Ask questions. Be brave. Get to rehearsal a little early. Get to know the people you’re working with. There is always more to learn. Also, while winning a Dazzle is fantastic, the real award is just being in the room. So if you win, celebrate graciously, and if you don’t win, celebrate the accomplishment of the school that did.
Once Emmet Otter closes, the audition life continues! I’ll be based out of New York for the foreseeable future, and I’m excited to keep growing as an artist! I also really found a love for writing while we were locked down last year, so I’m excited to continue working on that as well.
Almost immediately after the Dazzle Awards in 2016, I graduated from Marion L. Steele High School in Amherst and proceeded to take a gap year before college. I prepared for music theater program auditions in Ohio, enrolled in dance classes at Midwest School of Ballet, and performed at local theaters (TrueNorth Cultural Arts and Beck Center for the Arts) to gain experience and build a resume. I auditioned for music theater programs at Baldwin Wallace University, Bowling Green State University, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Kent State University, Otterbein University, and Wright State University, and by spring of 2017, I became part of Baldwin Wallace Music Theatre’s class of 2021. My personal favorite productions from my four years of college include Disney’s The Little Mermaid (Flotsam) at Beck Center for the Arts in 2017, South Pacific (Ensemble) with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center in 2019, Kinky Boots (Harry / Charlie u.s.) in 2019, and Spring Awakening (Moritz) in 2020, both at Baldwin Wallace University. I graduated in May 2021 and promptly moved to New York City in June, and now I am currently represented by Nicolosi & Co. and am making my NYC debut with Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas at the New Victory Theater!
For this production, I am Wendell Porcupine and Weasel, and I cover for Emmet Otter (currently portrayed by the wonderful Colin Trudell).
Colin displays immense talent and carries himself with such warmth and kindness that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to reconnect and work together on this show. It feels like we arrived at this “full-circle” moment, where we met through the Dazzle Awards program as it kickstarted our parallel journeys of taking a gap year, auditioning for and attending music theater programs (BWMT, TXSMT), signing with our respective talent agencies, graduating and moving to New York City, and meeting again in both of our NYC debuts with Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. There is this familiarity of performing together again coupled with a sense of awe and excitement for how much we’ve grown since, and this experience has been wonderful.
Without the Dazzle Awards program inspiring me to pursue musical theater, without the opportunity of working with and learning from industry professionals, and without the experience of performing alongside remarkably talented high school students who were immensely passionate about their craft, sharing stories, and changing people’s lives in the audience, I would not and could not have achieved what I do now and all I’ve accomplished so far. Participating in the inaugural Dazzle Awards program in 2016 is the first defining moment of my musical theater career, and so I will eternally be grateful for Cleveland, for Playhouse Square, and for the Dazzle Awards.
I’d have to say the night of the event itself. Performing in the opening and closing numbers, my school’s musical number (Skid Row from Little Shop of Horrors), and the “Best Actor” nominee medley (as Seymour) was incredibly special, but nothing compared to being a part of every high school student, educator, program, and community coming together to support and acknowledge one another. The excitement; the joy; the celebration—that is my favorite memory.
Steven Huynh performing at the 2016 Dazzle Awards
Specifically for the Dazzle Awards? I think first and foremost, have fun! Playhouse Square has developed an amazing program and experience that is the Dazzle Awards—you discover a lot about the craft of musical theater, and along the way, you discover a lot about yourself. Yes, there’s a little bit of competition involved, but if you take the time to let go and enjoy everything that happens in the moment, I’m sure you’ll find the experience to be even more worthwhile.
Now for advice that isn’t specifically for the Dazzle Awards: Life never throws anything at you you can’t handle. Throughout the course of your journey, whether it be in your life or your career, you will encounter joy, success, and excitement. Occasionally, you’ll also be faced with challenges, difficulty, and disappointment. If you decide to pursue a career in musical theater (or even if you don’t), have faith and confidence in yourself and what you are capable of, and trust that when times get tough, you’ll be A-okay.
At the moment, what lies after we close Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas is a mystery! However, 2022 will be an exciting new year, and I’ve been fortunate to be consistently submitting for TV, theater, and film, so I have faith that the next performance opportunity is right around the corner–we’ll just have to wait and see!
Jim Henson's Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas runs at the New Victory Theater through January 2.
We wish Colin and Steven all the best in their next adventures!