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It’s ‘Glee’ for real as musical youth compete on PBS

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Updated: October 10, 2012 6:15AM

‘Broadway or Bust,” a three-part documentary that chronicles teen performers as they sing and dance their way to the top of a heated competition, is “Glee,” “Smash” and “High School Musical” rolled into one.

Except it’s real.

“It goes beyond all those shows because it’s not scripted, it’s not fiction, it’s real,” says Van Kaplan, president of the National High School Musical Theater Awards. They’re nicknamed the Jimmy Awards in honor of Broadway theater owner James M. Nederlander.

“These kids are in our communities. They are all around us. They are motivated, inspiring people. I think what’s different with our program is you get to meet them, [and] you’re experiencing exactly what they’re experiencing as it’s being thrown at them.”

“Broadway or Bust: The Casting Call” airs from 7 to 8 p.m. Sunday on WTTW-Çhannel 11, followed by “Broadway or Bust: Boot Camp” Sept. 16 and “Broadway or Bust: And the Winner is ...” Sept. 23.

The series is a co-production of WGBH Boston and Lance K. Shultz in association with the Jimmy Awards.

More than 50,000 students answered a casting call that eventually was whittled down to 60 regional winners, including Nathan Salstone of Northbrook.

They headed to New York in June for a grueling “theatrical boot camp” where they received one-on-one coaching from Broadway stars including Leslie Odom Jr. (“Rent”; TV’s “Smash”) and Telly Leung (“Godspell”; TV’s “Glee”).

It all builds toward a production, staged at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway, where they compete for the Jimmy Awards. One male and one female are chosen as the best young theater stars by a panel of judges.

“These are real kids with real talent who have the guts to follow their dreams, and I feel like that’s what we captured on television,” says Laurie Donnelly, WGBH executive producer of lifestyle productions.

“It’s a competition, but it’s really about the process, about these 60 talented, brave souls who are ready and willing to put themselves on the line with the hope they could make it on Broadway. That to me is worth capturing.”

For Erica Durham, 18, of Aliquippa, Pa., now a musical-theater major at Penn State, the experience made her even more determined to make it on Broadway. “The biggest goal in my life,” she says, “is to go back to New York.”

Gannett News Service

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