As 62 teenagers from around the United States made their way onto the campus of New York University in lower Manhattan June 26, the Tisch School of the Arts began to pulse with ambition and hope (and show tunes, of course), as aspiring young performers began their journey to the 2013 Jimmy Awards.
A pizza party kicked off the week-long schedule of events that take place at Tisch, which include meetings with seasoned Broadway performers and creative artists, vocal coachings, rehearsals and the staging of this year's National High School Musical Theater Awards, where the students will 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 determine the recipients of the Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress awards.
"We'll get to be with people of our own nature. We're all representing our regions," explained Tim Hart, 16, who attends Palm Harbor University High School in Tampa, FL, and was named the Broadway Star of the Future for his performance as the Baker in Into the Woods. "We're all really dedicated to theatre, and we get to spend almost a week with other people who are just as dedicated as we are, and we get to put together a production as our characters — so we [are able to showcase] that piece of us from our home production with new people. And, it's on a Broadway stage… I'll say it again, it's crazy! I'm excited."
"Excited" was the most common word used at the Jimmy Awards' Meet and Greet, where students — a handful of whom are spending their first week in New York City — are given the chance to perform on Broadway's Minskoff stage, home to the Tony Award-winning production of The Lion King, and are reeling from the opportunity. "I think the first show that I ever saw was The Lion King at the Pantages [Theatre in Los Angeles], and that was when I was eight, so [being in New York City], I am able to rekindle that flame that made me want to be a performer," said 18-year-old West Coast native Anthony Nappier, who received the Jerry Herman Award for his performance as Adolpho in The Drowsy Chaperone. "I didn't think I'd be performing on Broadway any time soon, and it's just a great experience — this whole thing."
The entire process consists of rigorous rehearsals with director Van Kaplan, choreographer Kiesha Lalama and music director and arranger Michael Moricz; meet-and-greets with professional performers and casting directors in the theatrical industry; and a performance and presentation on Broadway with 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).
What is 18-year-old Chaparral High School student Chris Maclean most looking forward to? "Honestly, the endless rehearsals," he said. "I want to go to a conservatory program really badly, so non-stop theatre, 24/7, with incredibly talented people and incredibly talented instructors — that's like a dream come true. Just that is incredible for me."
Maclean represents The Bobby G. Awards for his performance as Jean Valjean, the protagonist of the epic Tony-winning musical Les Misérables, who was imprisoned and branded as prisoner number 24601.
"I've never gotten more into a role than I have with Valjean," he explained. "I read part of the book, and what I didn't read, I went on SparkNotes and Wikipedia to try and find out as much as I could about Valjean. And, the song 'Bring Him Home' I actually have a really strong emotional connection to. My brother is in the air force, so when he left home, our song for him was 'Bring Him Home,' which is the song Valjean sings to a soldier, [Marius]. And, there's a reprise of that same song that Valjean sings when he's dying that [says], 'I'm dying. Bring me home — bring me to heaven,' and my mom wants me to sing that reprise at her funeral. So there was a huge emotional connection to the role that was really hard to tackle, but I worked hard, and apparently it paid off."
The hard work from the 62 young artists has all led them to New York City, where they have the opportunity to make friends amongst their Jimmy Awards cast and the chance to work in a professional environment. "I'm really excited to meet kids from all over the place and just see the talent that is in other areas," said Halle Mastroberardino, who represents the Gershwin Awards for her performance as Polly Baker in Crazy for You at Harrison High School in New York. "I'm so excited [about the awards ceremony]. It's so crazy. I won't believe it until it happens!"
"There's great work being done in high schools all across this country," said director Kaplan, who is the executive producer of the Pittsburgh CLO (the co-founder of the Jimmys) and the president of the National High School Musical Theater Awards. "What the Jimmys does is focus attention on [the students' work in their high school theatre programs] and elevates it to a level to where kids have an opportunity to come to New York and learn, mix with professionals and get their Broadway debut."
"They're exceptional," he added about this year's Jimmy constants. "They really are… This is the best of the best."
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.)