The cream of America’s crop in aspiring actors, singers and dancers gather in New York for a “theatrical boot camp” designed to whip them into shape for a climactic competition in “Broadway or Bust,” a thoroughly engaging new three-part series premiering Sunday, Sept. 9, on PBS (check local listings).
Built around the National High School Musical Theater Awards — better known as the Jimmy Awards, named for Broadway producer James M. Nederlander — the series follows 60 talented high-school performers who prevailed in 30 regional competitions out of a field of 50,000. Before their end-of-week showcase awards event on a Broadway stage in front of a live audience and judges, the young hopefuls are coached on their performances by supportive pros including Leslie Odom Jr., who plays chorus boy Sam Strickland on the NBC series “Smash.”
“I was terrified when they told me that I was going to have the kids for about eight hours a day in a room by myself, but once I got in there with them, I just tried to be a friend to them and help them in whatever way I could,” Odom tells Zap2it. “Every kid needs something different, but they were just the most lovely human beings. It was like being in a room with 12 friends — young friends, but I was just so blown away and inspired by their talent.”
The actor, whose own professional theater credits include “Rent,” says he was tremendously impressed by how well prepared and committed his charges were.
“As part of the final competition, they had to do individual performances,” Odom explains. “We worked on the songs, and I gave them notes and homework, and then the next day we dug a little deeper into the material. I definitely didn’t want to shake their confidence before their final day of competition, so I just wanted to encourage them and, if possible, find a way to take it up to the next level.”