By Megann Horstead | For The Bugle
Bolingbrook resident and Benet Academy graduate Justin Smusz never thought he would be granted a trip to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards.
“One of the girls from Benet went last year,” he said. “It was cool to know she did that and to see that talent comes through the program. I’m going to be making my ‘Broadway debut.’ To experience that was so much fun.”
Smusz recently won Best Actor at the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards and subsequently earned a weeklong trip to New York City from June 19 to June 26 to receive coaching from Broadway performers in order to compete in the 2017 National High School Musical Theatre Awards. The National High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as The Jimmy Awards, are named for legendary Broadway theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander.
“Obviously, it’s a huge honor,” Smusz said. “[Acting,] it’s something I want to do as a career later in life.”
Smusz gained the recognition of the Illinois High School Music Theatre Awards for his portrayal of Chad in Benet Academy’s production of “All Shook Up.” There, he portrayed a womanizer with a love for music.
The storyline followed Chad as he questions his sexuality and tries to get someone who he first thought was girl but actually is a boy to open up.
“Our directors made sure it wasn’t just a juke box musical,” Smusz said. “It has to do with love whether it’s a man or girl. Real love itself comes through.”
The similarities between he and his character, Chad, are undeniable, Smusz said.
“For someone openly gay, I went through that,” he said. “I channeled it. It was interesting. It’s not something I think about everyday. It was like a rediscovery for myself.”
Smusz has a history of acting experience through performing in shows in community theatre, at high school and at North Central College.
“I have had many great teachers from a young age all through the high school years,” he said. “Lauren Condon and Brian Wand, they won Best Directors at the Jimmy’s. They supported me [at Benet Academy]. I know in the future, they’ll be there for me. My parents, I can’t forget my parents.
Smusz offered some words of advice to fellow thespians interested in pursuing a life in theatre.
“I’ve hear a lot of my friends in the business say rejection is a huge part of the job,” he said. “Majority of it will be a ‘no.’ They’re looking for something. It doesn’t mean you’re not talented. Sometimes people take themselves too seriously.”
Smusz plans to take his acting chops to Indiana University where he will study musical theatre this fall.
“I’m going to see where it takes me,” he said. “Broadway is a big dream of mine.”