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TOMORROW ON TLC: Local students learn Broadway skills from pros at the White House

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Posted on: November 25, 2015

BY ROSANNA LANDIS WEAVER — Two Northwestern High School students joined an all-day symposium at the White House on Nov. 16, designed for students hoping for careers in musical theater.

“It was an incredible experience.” Said Northwestern sophomore Johnathan Palmer, “I was just shocked when I first got there. You see it in movies, and you get in there and you recognize things. Just to think – I’m walking the places all these presidents walk.”

SET YOUR DVR: Broadway at the White House will air on TLC on Thanksgiving, November 26 at 8 p.m.

Palmer and Erica Rollins, students at the Jim Henson Academy of Visual and Performing Arts at the Hyattsville high school, were part of the filming of TLC Thanksgiving special “Broadway in the White House.”

Palmer at piano
Palmer copies the image of President Clinton at a White House piano.

A few weeks prior to the event Ms. Leona Lowery, director of the program, approached Palmer to tell him about the opportunity. Though Palmer was excited – submitting documents for a security clearance and going out and buying new clothes – had no idea how star-studded the day would be. The two co-hosts of the TLC program, Glee’s Matthew Morrison and Kristin Chenoweth, were joined by celebrities including Whoopi Goldberg, Gloria Estefan, Christian Borle, Cicely Tyson, Andrew Lloyd Weber and Stephen Schwartz, the songwriter of Broadway musicals Godspell and Wicked.

Palmer attended a workshop where a choreographer taught the approximately students – some from as far away as Los Angeles — steps for the conga. Students also had to sing the song while dancing, and Palmer said, “It was hard because you have to take in one deep breath and got all the words out, while at the same time thinking ‘I’m singing with Gloria Estafan right now.’”

The students were encouraged to keep rehearsing because First Lady Michelle Obama would be joining them. “That’s when I got serious,” says Palmer, “telling myself, I’m not messing it up.”

When Michelle Obama joined them for the dance, “She turns to me and says, ‘Am I doing it right?’” said Palmer, the thrill still in his voice days later, “And I’m like, ‘Yeah, you got it.’ It was so fun!”

The students then attended a panel where they could ask questions. Andrew Lloyd Weber told the students his first love was rock music, and Palmer got to give Whoopi Goldberg a hug. “She doesn’t seem like a celebrity,” he said, “She just seems like someone to talk to.”

Throughout the day, in master classes and panels, the students heard backstories from the stars they hope to be some day. “It was so good to learn from people who’ve been through it before,” one student said.

“TLC is proud to partner with The White House and the First Lady to celebrate these remarkable high school students,” Nancy Daniels, president and general manager of TLC, said in a statement to Variety. “This is such an inspirational event that encourages Broadway hopefuls to develop their creative talents.”

The students participated in both the rehearsal and the filming of the one-hour special that will air on TLC on Thanksgiving, November 26 at 8 p.m.

“It was great to see professionals at work” Palmer said about the film crew, who was impressed with the seriousness with which everyone took their job. “There’s so many things that go into it. You just sit home and watch the TV but you don’t see all the things that are going on.”

By the end of the day, Palmer said he didn’t want to leave and his passion for a future career was stronger than ever. “I really want to do theater. No matter what anybody tells me I’m going to do it.”

Locals who wish to see these future Broadway stars are encouraged to attend the performance of Grease at Northwestern High School on Dec. 10, 11, 17, 18 and 19. The shows begin at 7 p.m., and will be preceded by performances by members of the instrumental program.

Palmer said, “Grease is going to be amazing.”

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