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Las Casas Foundation picks an Aria

Emcee Randy Beamer with Charlene McCombs (Theater namesake) at the Las Casas Foundation 2014 Performing Arts Scholarship Competition.
Emcee Randy Beamer with Charlene McCombs (Theater namesake) at the Las Casas Foundation 2014 Performing Arts Scholarship Competition.
Photo by Sandra Trevino. Used with permission.

On Sunday May 18, 2014 Aria Braswell, Donald Braswell II's sixteen year old daughter, was tapped by San Antonio's Las Casas Foundation as one of the two recipients of the coveted spots to go to New York and compete for the National High School Musical Theater Awards's (NHSMTA) “Jimmy Award”. Her classmate at NESA (Northeast School of the Arts), Aaron Taylor took the other honor.

Finalists in the Las Casas Foundation 2014 Scholarship Competition
Photo by Sandra Trevino. Used with permission.

The non-profit Las Casas Foundation (formally the Foundation for Cultural Arts in San Antonio) is the organization responsible for restoring the Majestic Theater and the McCombs Empire Theater and developing the San Antonio Performing Arts Center in 1989. Through generous sponsors, Las Casas has given out over $400,000 in scholarships in the performing arts to high school seniors. KLRN PBS filmed the magical night and it will be aired in San Antonio on July 11, 2014 and re-aired on July 13, 2014.

Randy Beamer brought humor and fun to the night as emcee. He is a co-anchor and photojournalist for WOAI New 4. “Beamer”, as he likes to be called, has Emmy Awards and an Edward R. Murrow Award among his many awards during his career of reporting, anchoring, photography and commentary. The wonderful accompanist Ryan Fielding Garrett sports too many credits in performance, composing, and musical direction to list, but they include many New York City shows as well as being premiered by the San Antonio Symphony.

Judging was handled by five extraordinary Broadway (and film) stars who came from New York for the show: Jonelle Allen - Two Gentlemen of Verona & Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman (screen); Alix Korey, - No way to treat a lady & Beauty and the Beast (screen); Robin Lewis – Beauty and the Beast and PBS's Dance in America Fosse: A Celebration in Dance; Sal Mistretta - Sweeney Todd and Phantom of the Opera; and Gwen Stewart – Rent and All Shook up. This just barely touches on the pages of their awards and performances.

The show went off without a hitch with the help of Susan Dee Breidenbach (Stage Manager), Mark Hicks (Assistant Stage Manager), Kim Bianco (Production Consultant), MaLuisa Garza-Olivo (Backstage Crew) and John Onyx (Backstage Crew); each with their own vast list of accomplishments.

25 students were selected as finalists in five categories from over 150 contestants from all over San Antonio. All finalists attended a day-long Master Class with professional coaches. At the end of the Las Casas Foundation evening they each won scholarships ranging from $1500 to $5000. Ashley Olson, Madeline Chancy, Joshua Riding, Hailey Medrano and Jonathon Stone took top honors in their respective Las Casas categories.

Previously picked Essay Award winners were Chloee Abigail Leos and Corbyn Sprayberry. Joshua Riding earned the $10,000 over-all championship with his monolog from The Cockeyed Kite.

The multi-talented senior Las Casas finalists were Ashton Schifani, Kaitlen Jung, Andrea Lopez, Madelene Hall, and Ashley Olson (Solo Dance); Hailey Medrano & Jonathon Stone, Jorge Espinoza & Marlowe Romero, and Christian Parrish & Samuel Wittlinger (Duet Acting); Cameron Kauffman, Konnor Callender, Aaron Taylor, Michele Yamin, and Madeline Chancy (Solo Voice); Sydney Watt, Anna Connelly, Joshua Riding, Renelle Wilson, and Daniel Quintero (Solo Acting).

Christopher Heron, Michele Yamin, Aaron Taylor, and Aria Braswell (junior) were the Las Casas finalist positions in the “Jimmy Award” category. The contest is open to high school juniors and seniors who have had a lead role in a musical that year. Braswell was brilliant as Joanna in NESA's rendition of Sweeney Todd and Taylor lit up the stage with his portrayal of Seaweed in Hairspray. Their songs “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” and “Run and Tell That” won the judges' nod.

As winners of the Jimmy Award category, Aria Braswell and Aaron Taylor, each received a $3000 Las Casa scholarship and will be sent to New York for a week long theater camp, expenses paid, to learn from Broadway professionals. This was the first year Las Casa joined the ranks of about 30 organizations around the country that send a top female and male contestant for the NHSMTA awards. Approximately 60 finalists are selected out of more than 50,000 students from over 1000 high schools around the country. On June 30 the finalists will perform a Broadway show at the Minskoff Theater and two national winners (Best Actor and Best Actress) will be announced at that show.

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