“I believe in competition,” said Zachary Levi as he wrapped up hosting the 2016 National High School Musical Theatre Awards June 27. From the stage of Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, Levi addressed the 62 high school finalists to impress upon them that competition will only make you better. “We all want to win, but sometimes losing is even better than winning because that’s when you learn,” that’s when you push yourself to be better, said the Tony nominee.
This year the Jimmy Awards—fondly nicknamed for founder and sponsor James M. Nederlander—expanded to include 62 regional finalists (ten more students than last year) in the ten-day intensive and award two students Best Actor/Actress and award 18 others with additional awards and/or scholarships. Founded eight years ago by Nederlander Alliances, Pittsburgh CLO and Broadway Education Alliance, the Broadway League Foundation continues to work hard to pack as much as they can into the elite program. Over the course of the evening, it was clear those efforts paid off.
The talent from these high schoolers astounded the crowd of industry professionals, friends and family. Three-time Tony nominee Marc Kudisch stood onstage in awe of the talent that “reminded [him] of what first inspired us” to live lives in the theatre.
From the downbeat of the opener, the show (directed by Van Kaplan and choreographed by Keisha Lalama) showcased the talent of the stars of tomorrow. All 62 finalists, who had each already won awards for Best Performance by an Actor or Actress in their regional competition, belted out a medley of tunes from this season’s favorites like Shuffle Along, She Loves Me, Waitress, long-running classics like Chicago and, of course, the phenomenon that has rocked musical theatre, Hamilton. These kids—15 of whom had never been to New York City and four who had never traveled by plane—truly felt lucky to be alive right now.
The evening was technically the second part of the competition, as five judges began contemplating 40 soloists June 26 as part of the preliminaries. This showcase, part two, would help the final judges—founding director of NYU Tisch School of the Arts’ New Studio, Kent Gash; casting directors Rachel Hoffman, Alecia Parker and Tara Rubin; executive vice president of the Nederlander Organization, Nick Scandalios; and Actors Equity president Kate Shindle—decide the top four women and top four men.
Shindle felt the importance of her contribution to the Jimmy experience. “For anybody at that age just figuring out who they are and what they want to do ... I think that will be a tremendously validating thing for someone at the Jimmys to say, ‘I think you’re good, I think you can do this,’” she said.
To help the judges narrow their choices, nine young female performers kicked off the first medley, singing songs from their nominated performances and representing characters ranging from Matron “Mama” Morton to Eliza Doolittle to Wednesday Addams. Nine young men followed with demonstrations of comedic chops in roles like Aldolpho and vocal prowess with parts like the Beast, Gaston and Jimmy Smith. When Levi returned to introduce the next group, he pointed at that “Gaston and the Beast shared a stage for ten minutes there and nobody killed each other so…love is winning.”
Ten gals then wowed from shows like Little Shop of Horrors, Les Miz and Ragtime; and in the final medley, ten young men showed us variety in killer performances from Big Fish to Sunday in the Park with George. The remaining 24 students had the audience dancing in their seats to the salute to On Your Feet! in a tribute to the show they enjoyed and the cast they met earlier this week.
After intermission, the top eight included: Josh Strobl, Cameron Chang, Devin Moore, John Fredrickson, Kailey Boyle, Lauren Johnson, Marnie Quick and Amina Faye. Each performed a solo with emotional depth well beyond their years before Faye and Stobl claimed the top prizes.
“One of the cast members at On Your Feet! told us to always know who’s in your front row,” said Faye, “but I have a whole theatre.”
More than finding winners of the Jimmys last night, it was clear that, as Levi said, love is winning. These kids danced and sang their hearts out together, but, more importantly, they cheered for each other. Earlier in the week, finalist Noah King from Mesa, AZ confessed that the best part about the Jimmys was being around people with the same mindset. The common passion for the arts united these talents, and what resulted was a force that energized, electrified and inspired.
Mexican actress Bianca Marroquin, on the verge of reprising her role as Chicago’s Roxie Hart, announced that she was so motivated by the performances she is going to bring the “Jimmys” to Mexico. “I don’t know how I’m gonna do it,” she said. “But I have to try.”
For those who have never witnessed the Jimmys, this writer sincerely recommends you do so next year.
FULL LIST OF AWARD WINNERS:
Best Performance by an Actress: Amina Faye, presented by Nederlander Producing Company of American Inc.
Best Performance by an Actor: Josh Strobl, presented by Nederlander Producing Company of American Inc.
Each was presented with a check for $10,000 to further their education and are eligible for a four-year merit and need-based scholarship to attend the New Studio on Broadway, NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Drama, contingent upon acceptance into the program.
The finalists received a $2,500 scholarship toward their future education from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation.
Best Dancer: Cecilia Trippiedi, presented by The Shubert Organization
Best Vocalist: Mark Mitrano, presented by The Shubert Organization
Best Performance in an Ensemble: Devon McCleskey, presented by Disney Theatrical Group
Rising Star: Holly Payne, presented by The John Gore Organization
Spirit of the Jimmy Awards: Muhammad Yunus, presented by Musical Theatre International
6 Week Pre-College Drama Summer Program Scholarship: Curtis J. Salinger, presented by Carnegie Mellon University
Special Recognition Scholarships, presented by Tams-Witmark Music Library Inc:
Kaien Lynn Maines
Curtis J. Salinger