As the lights went down at the Minskoff Theatre — home of the Tony Award-winning Disney musical The Lion King — 62 high school students, hailing from 31 regions across the United States, took the stage to make their Broadway debuts (and their dreams come true) in a national competition that celebrated high school theatre and was hosted by Tony Award-nominated Cinderella co-stars Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana.
An opening number — directed by Van Kaplan, choreographed by Kiesha Lalama and orchestrated by music director Michael Moricz — was received with thunderous applause from parents, friends, mentors and judges as the students performed a medley of hits from Broadway musicals such as Annie, Matilda, Newsies, Pippin, A Chorus Line and Wicked as well as the radio hit "We Are Young" by Fun. and Janelle Monáe.
Following the opening act were seven medleys, in which groups of Best Actor and Best Actress Jimmy nominees performed a snippet of their award-winning high school performances in costume, as their character. The panel of judges — which included Scott Ellis (The Mystery of Edwin Drood), Kent Gash (founding director of NYU Tisch School of the Arts' New Studio on Broadway), Montego Glover (Memphis), Rachel Hoffman (casting of First Date, Hands on a Hardbody, Bring It On), Alecia Parker (executive producer of Pippin, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), Nick Scandalios (chairman of The Broadway League and executive VP of the Nederlander Organization) and Bernard Telsey (casting of Tarzan, The Wedding Singer, The Color Purple) — based their score on their medley performance and their preliminary performance seen a day earlier in rehearsals.
"Seeing them the night before in preliminaries is a very integral process to seeing them the night of [the ceremony] because it just gives us an opportunity to get acquainted with the kids. There are 62 of them and six judges, so we need a little more time," explained Tony Award nominee Glover. "The best part about being a judge is that all the students are immensely talented. It's really not about 'picking.' It's about recognizing how happy they are to be there, how much they love the art form [and] how willing they are to commit and to improve their skill set. We, as judges, are sincerely just reflecting that energy."
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