PBS is bound for Broadway with a three-hour primetime documentary series that tracks the real life stories of America’s top high school musical performers, vying in the ultimate competition to find the nation’s best young theater stars. 

Part competition, part performance, and part non-fiction drama, the series starts in regional competitions, where judges select the best performers in the country. The 60 finalists then descend on Broadway, where they plunge into the eye of the theatrical storm for one intense week of rehearsals, coaching, mentoring, performance and competition. The week culminates in The National High School Musical Theater Awards , a one night, star-studded event held at the Minskoff Theatre in New York. Here the judges select and anoint the nation’s leading male and female high school musical theater performers. Follow the build-up and the heartbreak, the drama and disappointment. It’s BROADWAY OR BUST, on PBS.

Episode Descriptions

Episode 1: The Casting Call (aired Sunday, September 9, 2012)

From a nationwide casting call of over 50,000 high school students, participating in 30 regional competitions, just 60 high school musical theater performers earn the right to come together for one week, in New York, to participate in the National High School Musical Theater Awards competition. We get to know these incredibly talented performers, the best in the country, as our cameras follow them to New York, where they meet face-to-face with their talented colleagues. As Day One for them unfolds, they quickly jump into it, learning a new opening number from director Van Kaplan and choreographer Kiesha Lalama, getting one-on-one coaching in music, theater, dancing and acting from some of Broadway's top talent—including Leslie Odom, Jr. (NBC’s "Smash"; "Rent"); Michael McElroy (Tony and Drama Desk Award nominations for "Big River"; "Rent", "Miss Saigon"); Liz Callaway (Tony Award nomination for "Baby"; "Cats", "Miss Saigon")—and preparing for their solos in front of an incredibly connected group of judges. The episode ends with students wondering, “Do I have what it takes to make it on Broadway?”

Episode 2: Boot Camp (aired Sunday, September 16, 2012)

Boot camp - there is no other way to describe it. Bam! Hour two picks up where hour one left off, launching headlong into the fire of the rehearsals, coaching and coaxing sessions that take place during one week of intense preparation for the auditions and the awards ceremony, popularly known as “The Jimmy Awards,” in honor of renowned Broadway theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander. Fighting fatigue, our eager performers quickly see what a learn by immersion experience is really all about—and get an eye-opening look at what life is like on Broadway. As one coach puts it, “In order to make a living acting on Broadway, you have to have skin that’s about as thick as the Mississippi River.” The central drama of the hour lies in capturing both the progress and the setbacks of the individual performers. Viewers increasingly get the feeling that nothing is certain. As the week moves along and the final auditions loom, the hour closes with another round of uncertainty. Participants dig in and launch into last minute preparations for their auditions. This is the moment of truth—did the weeklong boot camp pay off, or not?

Episode 3: And the Winner Is... (aired Sunday, September 23, 2012)

The big show at New York’s Minskoff Theatre provides the final act and crowning highlight of this mini-series. The hour opens with our 60 finalists preparing for the big day. In just six hours the lights will come up, the theater will be filled, and with the downbeat of the orchestra leader’s baton, it is show time. This is the moment they have all been waiting for. Coming into the final competition awards show, we know that all of the judges have a short list of top contenders but during the show itself, they will be asked to once again give scores to the leading performers based on the group performances and individual medleys. At intermission, the judges will be sequestered in a room where they must quickly cut the group to the final six finalists. Those six finalists sing their solos for the judges, and after another round of judging the winners are chosen. In the words of director Van Kaplan: “This week is an experience they are going to take away with them for the rest of their lives, and it is going to shape their whole lives whether they go into the theater or not.”

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