Tony Nominee Benj Pasek and Cast of Annie Inspire High School Jimmy Award Nominees

By Michael Gioia
June 30, 2013

The 5th Annual National High School Musical Theater Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards, will take place July 1. Playbill.com checks in with the students, who hail from 31 regions across the United States, as they spend the week in New York City and prepare for the highly anticipated competition that will take place at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre.



*

In between vigorous rehearsals with director Van Kaplan, choreographer Kiesha Lalama and music director and arranger Michael Moricz — who stage the 2013 National High School Musical Theater Awards, which take place at the Minskoff Theatre and are hosted by Tony Award nominees and Cinderella co-stars Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana — the 62 high school students competing for this year's "Jimmy" find themselves immersed in New York's theatre scene, dining at the famed restaurant Sardi's, attending a show at the Palace Theatre and chatting with Tony Award-nominated artists.

Following the June 27 evening performance of Annie, the students — dressed their best for an evening on the town — were greeted by cast members from the 2013 Tony Award-nominated Best Revival for a post-performance talkback. The orphans, including lead actress Lilla Crawford, and members of the adult ensemble, answered the students' questions about what it's like to work with artists such as choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and co-stars Jane Lynch and Anthony Warlow, as well as their experience at this year's Tony Awards and how they landed the job.

Crawford in Annie.
photo by Joan Marcus

"I haven't actually been to a 'Broadway' audition, so I guess I didn't know that they would have gone that far — 11 callbacks...!" said Matthew Durward Lynn, who represents the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards for his performance as the title role in Bay Boy: The Musical. "And then they got [cast] and couldn't tell anyone for three months — [that] sounds awful... The worst blessing you could have."

"It was intimidating learning that [Emily Rosenfeld, the actress playing Molly] was eight...on Broadway...working," he added. "It's crazy, but Monday, we'll be on Broadway."

On Monday, the students will perform for guest judges 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), who will pick the 2013 Best Actor and Best Actress. 

Benj Pasek
Photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

Until then, they continue to learn from artists in the industry and were visited by 2013 Tony Award nominee Benj Pasek, who wrote the scores — along with his writing partner Justin Paul — to Off-Broadway's Dogfight and Broadway's A Christmas Story, the Musical. Pasek chatted with the students in between rehearsals, on their lunch break, June 28 at Tisch. Kent Gash, founding director of NYU Tisch School of the Arts' New Studio on Broadway, moderated the conversation.

"When you are in this room, and you see all of these high school students getting so excited about musical theatre, it's the most inspiring thing in the world because you're realizing that this is an art form that young people are excited about," Pasek told Playbill.com following his Q&A with the students. "I am a young person, and to see people who are ten years younger than me excited over trivia questions about Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe and Stephen Sondheim, it's [evident] that musical theatre is alive and well. They're all being rewarded for their work in musical theatre, and they're coming to a place where they get to meet and know the other people who are excited about the art form — what an inspirational [event]!"

"One of my college audition pieces was from [Pasek and Paul's song cycle] Edges, 'Monticello,' so when I found out he was the guest speaker, I was floored," said Connor Fallon, who represents Spotlight on Stars in Beverly, MA, for his performance as the title character in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. "I think the most important thing I learned from Benj was that the difference between being a singer and being a singer for a musical is the story behind it and really finding that emotion and portraying that through, not just your voice, but [through] discovering the words and letting those marinate in the meaning of what they really are."

Sarah Lynn Marion, who represents the John Raitt Awards for Youth (JRAY) in California for her performance as the title role in Hello, Dolly!, was especially pleased that Pasek, a predominant lyricist, was the guest speaker. "I love writing — I love writing lyrics — and I really want to be a lyricist," she said, "so it was really inspiring for me to see someone so young who made it because he didn't give up."

She added, "He's this really sweet guy — this unassuming guy in a baseball hat. You wouldn't think that he's like this amazing genius in his head, so I think that was the most important thing [I took away from today]. Your personality and who you are is more important than how famous you are because he's incredible, and he's just like one of us... He was a real person."

Playbill.com will continue to blog from the Jimmy Awards events in anticipation of this year's ceremony.

(Playbill.com staff writer Michael Gioia's work appears in the news, feature and video sections of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter at @PlaybillMichael.)