Now in their seventh year, the Jimmy Awards feature 52 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. Michael Cerveris hosts.
Throughout the week students have been meeting with seasoned Broadway performers and creative artists, attending vocal coachings and rehearsals to prepare for this year's ceremony, where they perform and represent musical theatre competitions (where they were previously presented with an award for their performance in their high school production) sponsored by professional theatre organizations in cities across America. A panel of judges will determine the recipients of the Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress awards.
McKee and Ryan will continue to update Playbill.com with an exclusive blog that takes readers behind the scenes.
The day has finally arrived – the day I will be making my Broadway debut. Wow. Just the thought was enough to give me goosebumps.
I woke up early this morning, beyond excited for the once in a lifetime adventure on which I was about to embark. After finishing my complex Mary Poppins hair and makeup, I joined my fellow competitors as we ate a quick breakfast and made our way to the theatre.
Walking up the Minskoff was so surreal — I felt like a child walking into a candy store, in total awe and wonder. For those of you who don't know, the Minskoff is home to the Broadway show, The Lion King. The Lion King was my first Broadway show to ever see, so it was kind of special to think that my Broadway debut was going to be in the home of my first show.
We entered into the theatre and I was just in awe of how incredible just the lobby was – we hadn't even made it to the stage yet and I was already so impressed! We began our daily yoga with Ross, and our word of the day was "joy." This simple, three letter word was just about the only word in the whole human vocabulary that could scratch the surface of how I was feeling on this very special day.
After yoga, the boys and girls split off to go to their respective dressing rooms. As we entered into the girls ensemble dressing room, I just could not believe that I was going to be getting ready in a real Broadway dressing room, especially one that felt as "homey" as this one did! Each cast members has photos and other memorabilia all around the room. These women have given the room such a personal touch that made us feel as if they were welcoming us to take a glimpse into their lives beyond the stage. We quickly got settled in and made our way to the stage. A silence fell upon us all as we looked out on an auditorium full of empty seats, soon to be filled with some of the most important people in our lives and in the business. It was nothing but incredible. One girl started crying next to me, and I must admit, I was almost moved to tears as well. In that moment, I felt more blessed than to be living this dream at such a young age. We began running through the numbers in preparation for the evening ahead. There was something about performing each number on the stage that just gave us all that extra spark of energy.
We ate a quick lunch and hurried back to the stage to rehearse some more. The day had been going by so fast, I could barely even contain my excitement. As we were about to begin rehearsing the finale, word went around that Robbie Fairchild and Brandon Uranowitz were in the building. Of course, all of us freaked out, because we had just seen them on Broadway and now we would be performing with them. Seeing them rehearse just like we do was such a cool learning experience.
Dinner was next on the agenda and before we knew it, it was time to get dressed for the show. Hairspray, bobbie pins, tights, makeup and tea were all scattered about the girls' dressing room. It was exhilarating and we felt like we had really made it. We made our way to the lobby and took a series of photos for the press. I was filled with so much joy sharing this experience with all these amazing people.
Backstage, I sat in my chair and stared into the mirror. I could not believe I was about to make my Broadway debut. I looked at the person who is stationed where I was dressing during the normal Broadway season, and I felt the need to write her a note appreciating her for her hard work and dedication. Her name was Chondra, and she was absolutely beautiful from the pictures I have seen of her.
"5 minutes to places" blared of the speakers as we were in the dressing room. Exciting jitters were all about us as we scurried to our places, whispering "break a leg" to everyone we passed. Finally the lights dimmed, and we ran out to the stage. There is nothing quite like the feeling of looking out from Broadway stage that is fully lit, the faces of a packed auditorium fixed upon you.
We mesmerized the audience with our opening number and received a large applause. I then hurried back stage and began dressing for my beloved Mary. I couldn't believe that I was about to perform on a Broadway stage with a character that I have been working on for months. When it was finally time to go out, I just couldn't believe it. The crowd roared as they announced each of our names. Then the music began. There was something so special about the music that was playing this time. Each of us let ourselves be totally engulfed by our characters, and when it came time for me, I was over joyed. The audience erupted with laughter at the comedic transition of songs. We sang, danced, and fulfilled many a dream on that stage. I couldn't believe it had ended.
Intermission passed and they announced the six finalists. Alec Michael Ryan, my fellow Tommy Tune winner, finaled and sang his heart out on the stage. It was incredible standing side stage watching him pursue his dreams. I felt like a proud best friend watching someone that I know and love live in the moment. Each of the finalists performed their solos, and finally, it was time to announce who won. I was so happy for the two winners, especially Marla, as she was a part of my medley. Watching her express her talent on stage was moving and inspiring. She is not only a gifted singer, but she is one of the most genuine people that I have ever met, which makes her win all the more special. She is supportive, down to earth, and incredibly talented.
I was standing side stage watching them say their speeches when I looked to my left and saw the Robbie Fairchild just standing next to me, waiting to go on stage. I could not believe it. I told him how amazing he was in An American in Paris and in response, he graciously kept saying how amazing all of us were — receiving such a genuine compliment from someone of that caliber of talented was heartwarming and encouraging.
At long last, we began the closing number as the night slowly came to an end. We entered the stage with Robbie and Brandon, and the energy was just overwhelming. As I stood on the stage one last time (for this competition at least!), all I could think about was how incredible it was that I was living my dreams. We hit our last note, and I was just overwhelmed with happiness. This entire trip, I hadn't once thought of it as an award show, but rather an opportunity of a lifetime to learn from such amazing people, from the young and inexperienced, to the wise veterans of Broadway. I already felt like a winner for making it this far and being able to spend a week amongst such talented people.
We quickly packed up our stuff and rushed to the after party, which was extremely busy. I got photos with some incredible stars and I was able to talk with all the of judges and meet some more incredible people that changed my life. It felt like the perfect way to end the night.
The opportunity that high school students have to get a taste of what professional theatre is like through the Jimmy Awards is like nothing else. I would not trade this experience for anything in the world. I feel so blessed to have been able to take part in this experience. The path only goes up from here and I cannot wait to see what my life holds. Thank you to all the people that supported me and helped me get to where I am today! This experience has been something that I will never ever forget.