In the final seconds before the winner of the 2015 Blumenthal Music Theater Award for best actor was announced recently, Rick and Justin Norwood, father and son, were of like mind.
It was OK if Justin, a senior at South Pointe High School, didn’t win. Just being on stage and getting to do “jazz hands – those waving outstretched palms – and singing and dancing in the production number with the five other finalists was more than Justin expected.
His dad was OK with that too. He wondered if Justin would be at a disadvantage because the character he played in his high school musical – a captain in an ancient Egyptian army – was commanding and cruel in size and actions, something Justin, well, wasn’t, Rick said.
And the winner is . . .
Rick and Laura Norwood made sure their children, Cameron and Justin, were exposed to a variety of activities growing up. Rick, director of industrial recruitment for the city of Rock Hill, was a volunteer coach and then active with the athletic booster club at Northwestern High School.
There was no shortage of competition in the Norwood house. Cameron gravitated to baseball. Justin showed promise in soccer.
But his parents realized Justin’s heart wasn’t in sports when in a moment that was as comic as prophetic, he asked them, “Why is one basket worth two points?”
It was a theater camp at age four that started to pique Justin’s interest. In the fourth grade he performed in the ensemble of South Pointe’s production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
“The theater was a place were an artsy, hyperactive kid could thrive,” Justin said. “I found the outlet and it became my life. I am a little crazy, and it’s the only thing that made sense to me.”
And the winner is . . .
When it came time for high school, Justin had his parents sign a transfer request so he could attend South Pointe instead of Northwestern. He wanted to study drama under Jimmy Chrismon.
Chrismon, who describes himself as part teacher, part therapist, part friend, part mentor, took Justin under his wings. His message? “Let the character become you, not you become the character,” Chrismon said.
Justin has performed in about 18 productions at South Pointe, sometimes in starring roles, other times as part of the ensemble – including a “Hello Dolly” production where he had to wear a bright pink suit. “We won’t talk about that,” Justin said.
Chrismon started casting Justin in roles that he would not normally get if he were a full-time actor to challenge him.
As a junior, Justin played Terk, a young gorilla who teaches Tarzan the ways of the gorillas. His performance as Terk earned him a Blumey nomination for best supporting actor.
He played Jody in “Lonely Planet,” a two-character play about two men. The South Pointe production focused on their friendship.
It was during an early reading of Lonely Planet that Justin “broke down.” The words of the play “said things I wanted to say. It hit me hard. I learned to show vulnerability, face the things that I was hiding from in real life.”
And the winner is . . .
When Justin was cast as Radames in the musical “Aida” he was immediately drawn to the role.
“I love roles that dynamic, one that you learn from. That’s the magic of theater.”
He had to learn how to play “large” as Radames is “cruel, someone who enslaves people,” Justin said. “You don’t like him immediately.”
He had to learn how to play soft as the musical segues to a tale of love between Radames and Aida, the Nubian woman he has captured and enslaved.
His performance earned him a second Blumey nomination, this time as best actor. He was one of 20 actors selected as Blumey finalists. The 20 actors then auditioned before a panel of judges with Justin making the cut to the final six.
And the winner is . . . Justin Norwood
When Justin heard his name, “it was an out-of-body experience,” he said.
He was prepared to congratulate the winner, but it was the other finalists who showed the humility Justin was willing to give them. Everyone was celebrating.
But it was Justin who finally realized he could be the best – not “a,” but “the” winner.
It was, said his father, “validation that he belonged.” It was also validation for dad Rick, who had tried to be the voice of reason with his son, hoping to guide him to another, more stable path.
“Finally, he wore me down,” Rick Norwood said. With the Blumey trophy in hand, “I was just wandering around, looking like something terrible had happened. I looked glazed over.”
Justin said he had to watch the video to remember what he said during his acceptance speech.
Then it hit him. “I felt I deserved it,” Justin said.
For Chrismon, the award not only confirmed Justin’s talent as an actor, but taught him another valuable lesson.
“He knows he has the ability,” Chrismon said, “But he sells himself short. He does something good and ... looks to the next thing.”
“I’ve never been one to look back, never stand in one place, always looking forward,” Justin said.
But now that he has won the Blumey, “I learning to look to the left, to the right, breathe, savor the moment.”
As the winner of a “Blumey,” Justin will now compete for a “Jimmy,” given to the top actor and actress in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, which will be decided June 29 at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.
Justin is preparing his two audition pieces for the “Jimmy” awards. At the same time, he’s back on stage in a Charlotte production of “Aida.” This time he plays Mereb, Radames’ enslaved servant.
But, he says, he’s also taking the time to relax, savor the moments.
And for his dad, Rick, once again one of his sons has written the perfect ending to his high school years.
Cameron’s final highlight was being named the best player in the state’s all-star baseball game in 2012.
And when the winner was Justin, Rick Norwood realized both of his sons, “couldn’t have written a better script for their high school days.”
Don Worthington • 803-329-4066
Other locals in the Blumey spotlight
Helen Coats of Northwestern High School won “The Charlotte Observer Student Critic Award” at the Blumey awards. She was one of 12 students who participated in the Student Critic Program. The winner was chosen by editors of the Charlotte Observer.
Hunter Ditsch, a saxophone player at Northwestern High School, was one of two students selected to play in the awards show band.
Other York County schools nominated for Blumeys were Nation Ford High School for best set construction and best choreography executive for its performance of “Hairspray,” and South Pointe High School for best costume creation for “Aida.”