Neshaminy Valley Music Theater

From left: Cody Lewandowski, Grace McKenna, Kate Bilenko and Yasmine Nicolas.

MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP >> The Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre has  awarded scholarship grants totaling $4,000 to four recent graduates of Neshaminy High School who are planning to study the performing arts in college this fall. The four recipients from the Class of 2021 are Kate Bilenko, Grace McKenna, and Yasmine Nicolas, all from Langhorne, and Cody Lewandowski of Feasterville.

Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre (NVMT) is a not-for-profit scholarship organization offering competitive grants since its founding in 1956 to students graduating from the Neshaminy School District and planning to study the fine or performing arts in college. The organization mounts an annual musical, the proceeds from which go into a scholarship fund. Generous donors have also contributed to build the fund. To date, NVMT has awarded more than $160,000 in scholarships to nearly 200 students.

The organization’s latest production, Annie, was scheduled to be presented in spring 2020 at Neshaminy High School Auditorium. However, just a few weeks before opening, the COVID-19 pandemic required closing down of the high school’s facilities and the production. COVID-19 restrictions again prevented staging the production in 2021.

While the show, and its anticipated proceeds that would add to the scholarship fund, was canceled, the NVMT board of directors decided to not only award scholarship grants to graduating students in 2020 but also to continue that tradition in 2021 in support of the next generation of artists. The organization is now hoping to present Annie in the spring of 2022.

“NVMT’s scholarship grant program has been one of the most positive and rewarding forces behind the success of our theatre group for more than a half century,” stated Tom Urquhart, president of the organization. “While we strive for excellence in our stage productions, it is always with the objective of providing funds for our scholarship grants in order to support deserving young people such as these in their quest to achieve their dreams. We’ve been most proud of our recipients and truly happy to have been able to help them!”

The NVMT scholarships were announced at Neshaminy’s Class of 2021 senior awards night held on May 27.

Kate Bilenko received support from NVMT through the Evelyn McLean Memorial Scholarship Fund, named after the founder of the Music Theatre. Bilenko will attend the Theatre Arts Program at Rider University in the fall. Her career goal is to be a professional performer and to one day appear on Broadway. Bilenko is a Vocal Merit Scholarship recipient at Settlement Music School and was awarded Outstanding Vocalist at Temple University’s 2020 Ellington Jazz Festival. She has trained in voice, acting, ballet, tap, modern and jazz dance; plays piano, saxophone and guitar; and, besides English, speaks Russian and Spanish. She has performed in featured roles at the Kelsey Theatre, the Barn Playhouse, the Village Playbox, and Rethink Theatrical, as well as at Neshaminy High School and Neshaminy Summer Stock.

Cody Lewandowski and Yasmine Nicolas received support from NVMT through the Dotti Gelenberg Memorial Scholarship.

Lewandowski will attend Coastal Carolina University pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theatre. His career goal is to perform professionally as an actor and singer once he completes his degree. Besides maintaining academic success, Lewandowski was active in Neshaminy High School’s Drama Club, Select Choir, Gym Night, Concert Choir, and Men’s Choir, and was a member of the Roadies, a select group of the high school’s theatre students. He also served as vice president of the school’s Drama Troupe and participated in Counterparts in Hope, an organization that benefits members of the theatrical community who have been furloughed due to the pandemic.

Planning to major in music education, Nicolas will be attending Valley Forge University in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. A singer and actress, she is passionate about music and has performed in a number of musicals and plays. Her goal is to impact the lives of others in a positive way though music and teaching and to help her future students by improving their skills and providing motivation to pursue their dreams. After completing her college studies, she would like to teach in an urban setting reaching out to students representing diversity in culture, national origin, race and beliefs. She has earned Distinguished Honor Role designation every marking period while at Neshaminy High School and has continued to challenge herself by selecting rigorous academic courses. Her extracurricular activities include participation in the Friends Helping Friends Club, an anti-bullying group that promotes acceptance and inclusion.

Grace McKenna received support from NVMT through the Joseph J. McGlade Memorial Scholarship Fund. She is enrolled in Rider University’s Bachelor of Fine Arts Musical Theatre Program, minoring in Arts and Entertainment Industries Management, with a plan to enter the field as a working performer after college. McKenna was active in the Neshaminy High School dramatics program for three years, has served as president of the Neshaminy High Drama Troupe, and as a student officer for the Pennsylvania Thespian Board. Like Lewandowski, she has been a member of the high school’s Roadies and has participated in several community service activities including Counterparts in Hope.

Given the absence of ticket income the past two seasons due to the pandemic and the delayed production of Annie, plus the commitment to continue to provide scholarships, NVMT has set up a GoFundMe campaign to support the scholarship fund. Those interested in supporting the theatre’s scholarships can donate at https://gofund.me/6189bc10 . Alternately, checks made out to Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre can be mailed to P.O. Box 131, Langhorne, PA 19047.

NVMT has received national recognition for its annual productions including 32 nominations and seven wins from the International Music and Entertainment Association in categories such as outstanding performer, outstanding director, and outstanding scenic design. All the participants on stage and behind the scenes are volunteers.

The application process for 2022 scholarships, open to graduating seniors of Neshaminy High School, will be available next spring.

Information on the rescheduled production of Annie will hopefully be announced in the fall. Patrons holding tickets for the canceled performances can use those tickets for the rescheduled performances next spring.

For more information on Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre and its scholarship program, visit nvmt.org, or email nvmt@verizon.net or call 215-860-1584.

The Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre was established in 1956 as a not-for-profit, scholarship grant organization presenting a spectacular Broadway-type musical stage show each spring at the Neshaminy High School. For the past 65 years more than $160,000 in scholarships has been awarded to nearly 200 talented local high school seniors who planned to pursue their education in the fine or performing arts.

The group of non-professional volunteers takes pride in producing professional-level stage musicals, as well as serving the community through its scholarship grant program. NVMT welcomes all interested community members to join them in a fun and rewarding experience. Whether you like to sing, dance or act, there are many ways to participate in this vibrant community theatre. The group is always also looking for artists and craftspeople to build sets, paint scenery, make costumes and contribute to our award-winning scenic design. All ages and levels of experience are welcome. Even a total novice will find this a great way to meet people and test their secret dream “to be a star.”

For further information on the next production call (215) 860-1584, email nvmt@verizon.net, or visit www.nvmt.org.

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