From June 25-July 30, 56 teenagers — who hailed from 31 regions across the United States — prepared for the 2014 National High School Musical Theater Awards, which took place at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre hosted by Ryan McCartan, the 2011 Jimmy Award winner who recently starred as JD in the Off-Broadway musical Heathers and appears on Disney's "Liv & Maddie."
Throughout the week students met with seasoned Broadway performers and creative artists, attended vocal coachings and rehearsals to stage this year's ceremony, where they performed and represented 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 determined the recipients of the Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress awards.
Keenan Buckley and Emma Magbanua represented the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards in Millburn, NJ, for their respective performances as Julian Marsh in 42nd Street and Kim in Miss Saigon.
Buckley and Magbanua continue to update Playbill.com with an exclusive blog that takes readers behind the scenes and into the rehearsal rooms. Click here for the first blog entry with Buckley and Magbanua.
Last night was incredible. I finally lived out my dream of performing on a Broadway stage. It was amazing, unimaginable and exhilarating. Words cannot describe the amount of emotions I felt last night.
The day began by heading to the Minskoff to tech our show. It felt like an eternity before we broke for dinner and to get into costume.
After we got into our opening costumes, we headed upstairs for a final pre-show circle and press photos. Then we headed to our dressing rooms to do some final warm-ups before we took the stage. At 7:25 PM the moment was upon us. Our stage manager called us to places for the opening number. As the house went black, all of the participants ran onto the stage and prepared for our first of many performances on a Broadway stage.
The opening number went off without a hitch, and when the lights went to black, we rushed off into the wings as our host, Ryan McCartan, the star of Heathers the Musical, came to the stage. I ran back into the men's dressing room to change into my medley costume. After about 25 minutes our stage manager called places for my medley. She gave me the cue, and I led my medley onto the stage and into our places as we struck our poses. I started off the medley with my song "42nd Reprise" from 42nd Street. Then we headed into the dance portion of the medley as we segued into "Run and Tell That" from Hairspray. Then we ended with "You Can't Stop the Beat." Our medley ended with thunderous applause as we headed off stage right to change back into our opening-number costumes.
After four medleys and the intermission, we all headed back to the stage to hear the results we were all desperately waiting to find out. We came out in a semicircle as our host opened the envelope with the names of the people who would continue on to be finalists. A big shout out to Mathew Richards, Jonah Rawitz, Mekhai Lee, Jai'len Josey, Brooke Solan and Sophia Tzougros for being finalists and advancing to the next round. As we all the left the stage and headed back to our dressing rooms, we anxiously awaited the results.
After six incredible performances, the finalists were lifted onto the stage (via a hydraulic elevator underneath the Minskoff) to find out the results of the entire week. Congrats to Jonah and Jai'len, who were announced as the 2014 Jimmy Award winners. They both gave gracious acceptance speeches as the lights dimmed for our final moment on the stage.
The lights slowly came back in to reveal the entire cast of the 2014 Jimmys, and we melted down to reveal our special guest artist: the star of Rocky, Andy Karl!
This experience was incredible. The amount of amazing people I met and the enormous amount of knowledge I gained over this week will be some of the things I will take with me for the rest of my life. I will always remember the day that I made my Broadway debut as well as the friendships I made. I could not have asked for a better week. Words cannot describe what the National High School Musical Theatre Awards have done for me. They have validated my skill as an artist in addition to the other 55 participants. They have also validated my dream of being a performer.
Thank you all for the amazing opportunity, and congratulations to every single participant. We all did an amazing job yesterday, and I know that everyone will find success at whatever he or she puts his or her mind to.
This is so bittersweet. Signing off, Keenan Buckley.
Last week at this time, we didn't even know each other. Today, we leave teary-eyed, wishing off used-to-be-strangers, who we now call family.
Thanks to Jimmy Nederlander, the Nederlander Organization, the Broadway Education Alliance, the Pittsburgh CLO and other supportive donors and sponsors, 56 students had an incomparable experience.
Not only did the 56 get to make his or her Broadway debut, but they also found how much they could accomplish in such a short time. In less than a week, the 56 learned and performed an entire show. They inspired and transformed everyone who took witness to this phenomenon.
Kent Gash challenged us to then imagine how many people we could touch the lives of if we did this for a lifetime.
It was an exhilarating night, with adrenaline and laughs and tears. For me, there was nothing better than watching the finalists walk forward, knowing how hard they've worked and how genuinely proud every contestant on the stage was of them. There is not another theatre awards program that can bring competitors as close as we have all become.
After the performance, we headed to the after party at John's Pizzeria, where contestants, chaperones, family and friends alike enjoyed some pizza. After a long day of tech-ing the show and performing the show, it was a delicious way to end the night.
To the 56: You have each changed my life in a way I cannot even begin to thank you enough for. This will not be the last time I'll be seeing all of you on Broadway.
Stay the stars that you all are. I'll be seeing you.