High School Award Winners Blog Their Way to Broadway

Special Features   High School Award Winners Blog Their Way to Broadway On June 27, future theatre stars take the Broadway stage with the eighth annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards (a.k.a. the Jimmy Awards). Two of this year’s nominees take us on their journey this week in New York City as they blog about their experience exclusively for Playbill.
Devin Moore and Marnie Quick
Devin Moore and Marnie Quick

Now in its eighth year, the 2016 Jimmy Awards feature 62 high school student finalists who have been selected from across the U.S. to perform at the Minskoff Theatre, currently home to the Broadway musical The Lion King. Named for Broadway producer/theatre owner James M. Nederlander, the June 27 show will be hosted by Tony nominee Zachary Levi.

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Leading up to the Awards, students participate in a ten-day intensive thanks to The Broadway League, during which they meet with seasoned Broadway performers and creative artists to prepare for this year's ceremony. Students this year will be coached by Gavin Creel, Eden Espinosa, Jose Llana, Michael McElroy, Howard McGillin and Karen Olivo.

The Awards show features performances by the finalists, comprised of winners of local musical theatre competitions. All of these Jimmy nominees were previously presented with an award for their performance in a leading role in their high school production, sponsored by professional theatre organizations in cities across America. On June 27, a panel of judges will determine the recipients of the Jimmy Awards for Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress.

Representing Pittsburgh, Marnie Quick and Devin Moore won this year’s Gene Kelly Awards, presented by the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, for their respective performances as Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5: The Musical and Jean Valjean in Les Misérables.

Quick and Moore will continue to update Playbill.com with an exclusive blog that takes readers behind the scenes.

Marnie Quick: June 26

My journey to the Jimmys began at the Pittsburgh CLO Gene Kelly Awards, where I received the Best Actress Award for my performance as Doralee Rhodes in 9 to 5. Before diving into the hectic week of rehearsals for the show, I had the opportunity to work with director-choreographer Kiesha Lalama, director Van Kaplan and music director Michael Moricz.

All of this year’s Jimmy nominees are sweethearts, just like in years past. I have a good friend here this year who I met at MPulse, the University of Michigan summer program. Samantha Gorjanc has been my buddy throughout this week. She has a killer voice and is one of the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met. There is another MPulse student attending the Jimmys this year! Josh Strobl is a high tenor, and he has been attached at the hip with Devon McCleskey. They are seriously the same person. They’re roommates, had Eden Espinosa as their coach, are both singing “Maria” from West Side Story as their solo piece and are both going to the University of Michigan in the fall for musical theatre. They are so similar mentally, but are complete opposites physically, which is pretty hysterical.

I also made a new friend named Kaylie Boyle. She has the most captivating blue eyes and laugh that just sucks you in. Kaylie, Sam and I have formed a group bond. I’m really excited to see Kaylie later this summer in her hometown, which is where my brother goes to school! I have a feeling that we are going to keep in touch for a very long time.

There is one nominee that stands out among the rest. He has one of the best spirits and is so inspirational. Muhammad Yunus is seriously going to be the next Lin-Manuel Miranda. I know he’s hearing it a lot this year, but actually though. After we saw On Your Feet! on Wednesday night, which was so much fun, he freestyle rapped while Josh Segarra beatboxed. One of the most interesting things about Muhammad is that he has spent this whole week fasting for Ramadan. Through all of this week’s craziness, he has had the self-control to continue with his belief system and not let it interfere.

Finally, I have had a pretty cool connection with Logan Dolence. He is a nominee from Michigan and came from the same awards program as one of my favorite people in the world who I met at the Jimmys is 2014, Jamie Colburn. I’m really going to do my best to get to know Logan a little bit more in the short time that we have left, plus I’m going to do my best to keep in touch with him afterwards.

So far at the Jimmys, we have blocked the entire show. We started with the audition on Monday, which then resulted in us being split into two groups: production number and medleys. Those who have been moved to the medley track have learned medleys just like there have been in the past at the Jimmys. Those who are in the production number have learned a medley of Gloria Estefan songs that were in On Your Feet! They also had the opportunity to work with the dance captain of the show for a rehearsal.

I have been placed into the medley track and am having so much fun in my last moments as Doralee Rhodes from 9 to 5: The Musical, belting my face off. I’m really enjoying my medley this year. It has a great mixture of ballads and up-tempos and some pretty great jokes. Comedy is one of the hardest things to do, and I’m so excited that I have a chance to work on comedic timing. I always think of myself as someone who excels in ballad world, but I’m really enjoying doing a ton of up-tempo songs.

This morning we had the chance to have a large group coaching for our solo pieces with Van Kaplan. He is a genius and is so easy to learn from. This coaching session was to prepare us for the audition for the judges that happens Sunday night. We then went through the medleys in private rehearsals while in costume. Afterwards, we ate lunch, and I had the amazingly awesome opportunity to be interviewed by a reporter from the New York Times! Then we cleaned up our medley and headed off to dinner. We then made a few tweaks to the opening and closing numbers.

The week has just flown by, and I am so excited for Monday night!

Devin Moore: June 26

As much as I would like to divulge as much information as eloquently as possible in this blog, what I have learned and experienced over the past week needs no decoration.

Since our arrival on Sunday, I could immediately sense the talent in the room when each and every person entered it. Everyone here is so different, yet so talented, and that’s what makes the experience so special. There is a passion that lives within the nominees that takes on a life when each person performs.

As performers, we have all grown over the course of the week, delving deep into our emotions and really finding ourselves in the characters that we portray. I have realized that there is no need for extra movements and frivolous gestures thrown aimlessly in an audition or performance as an attempt to “dazzle” the audience. The only thing they want to see is you. Sometimes, being you is really difficult, especially when someone tells you that your “you” is not good enough. One thing that I learned from this whole endeavor is that “I am enough.”

The vulnerability it takes to put your entire being out there for people to judge you takes time to be comfortable with, and I am still on that journey. The good news is that this is only the beginning. As a whole, the 62 of us have not focused on the competition aspect of the program, but we value the friendships we made and the moments we experienced.

This entire week has been something that I will never forget and that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I look forward to working with each and every person in the future and wish them all the best.

Marnie Quick: June 21

Dance is beautiful. It is expressive, it is exciting, it is real. Let me explain. Today is the second day of the Jimmy Awards, and we went through the first round of auditions. The audition had two parts: a dance call and a vocal audition. What has completely stimulated my mind was the dance call.

We were joined by choreographer and performer Wayne Cilento, the man who originated the role of Mike in A Chorus Line, as an adjudicator and special guest. We began the dance call with a discussion with Mr. Cilento about his career and life. He was so casual when speaking to us, which felt very welcoming. One of the most inspirational and down-to-earth things that he spoke about was learning to have fun in auditions. Being able to let go of your technique when auditioning is a highly beneficial skill in his eyes. There is something about watching someone who has passion in their eyes and knowing that they’re having fun that can brighten a room. You must be able to be free with your movement and move naturally.

The dance call was also very educational. Kiesha Lalama, the choreographer of the Jimmy Awards, made the dance call more like a class rather than an audition. Many nominees who attend the Jimmys have had no formal dance training, and it understandably takes a little bit longer for them to pick up on dance steps. Kiesha is highly attuned to that, so she went back to dance basics and took her time when teaching the combination to make sure every nominee was up to speed. After learning the combination, we went across the floor with very simple and basic moves such as pas de bourrees, step battements and step-ball-changes.

When you strip away all of the performing and go to the basics, some people shut down. I have had that issue in the past, as you feel exposed and vulnerable. Mr. Cilento picked up on this and was baffled at how different the combination was from the across the floor exercises. It really is interesting how extra movement can put forward a side that is not truthful. You can be so much more powerful if you use your body wisely without all of the extra frill added on. We glided across the floor, not as gracefully as Kiesha, and became more comfortable in the audition.

It is truly amazing how much you learn in a day at the Jimmys. Even in three hours! When you look back, there is always something new that you remember and build upon, sometimes without even knowing.

Devin Moore: June 21

Openness. Being open to exploring unchartered territories of your body or reaching new heights in your acting abilities or conquering feelings of fatigue and substituting that negative energy with focus and discipline have been heavily emphasized in the daily curriculum here at the Jimmy Awards.

Rehearsals are frequent and constant; otherwise, the show that we are preparing for would never be where it will be on Monday. As daunting as “six to seven hours of rehearsal” seems, our time is wisely spent developing a sense of unity, working on the routines and perfecting our own abilities.

Today, I found out that I will be coached by Eden Espinosa, who is most famously known for her awe-inspiring portrayal of Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway. Being exposed to such talented, successful human beings is something so beneficial to an aspiring musician of any kind. The knowledge and wisdom they carry from their experiences is a gift that they choose to give that has endless value.

I, as a performer, have been able to elevate myself within the course of two-and-a-half days with the Jimmy Awards. Aside from the teachings I’ve received from the professionals, the most I have learned is from my colleagues and peers. The amount of talent that exudes from this group of 62 students is astonishing.

Although it is just the beginning of this incredible journey, I am confident that this experience will alter my life and change my outlook on the future, as long as I remind myself to stay open.

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