From the HighSchool Stage to Broadway
Performing on Broadway as a high school student may seem like an unlikely and far fetched dream for many but, every year, the National High School Musical Theater Awards also known as the Jimmy™ Awards makes that dream come true for talented students from across the country.
THE JIMMY AWARDS: WHAT ARE THEY?
The Jimmy Awards were founded in 2009 by Pittsburgh CLO and the Nedelander Organization, and are produced annually by the Broadway Education Alliance. This year, 56 high school students that competed in 28 different regional high school musical theater award competitions, were selected as Jimmy Awards nominees. The nominees got the rare chance to travel to New York City to compete for the Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress awards.
The National High School Musical Theater Awards is a one-of-a-kind program that includes a week of professional training in New York City, which features a rigorous five-day coaching and rehearsal process as well as a series of events, Q&A’s and NYC site-seeing. On the final day, students get to make their Broadway debut at the Minskoff Theatre (current home of The Lion King) as they perform and compete for scholarships and other prizes. This year’s awards included a check from the Nederlander Organization for $10,000 for the winners to further their education. The winners will also be eligible for a four-year merit and a 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 four runners-up each received a $2,500 scholarship toward their future education from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation and one rising junior received a scholarship to attend Carnegie Mellon University’s six-week Pre-College Drama program.
The mission is to raise the profile of musical theater in schools, recognize dedicated teachers and inspire the next generation of performers and enthusiasts. Since its inception, the NHSMTA has supplied over $1,000,000 in university and conservatory scholarships to be awarded to talented students at the national and local level.
WHO IS JIMMY ANYWAY?
The Jimmy Awards are named after Broadway producer and theatre owner James M. Nederlander. Known as “Jimmy” throughout the Broadway community, Mr. Nederlander has been in the business for over 70 years! He is the owner of 9 Broadway houses and a number of regional theaters throughout the country.
A WEEK IN NEW YORK CITY
Can you imagine being a high school student spending a week in New York City while being mentored by your Broadway role models? For these 56 kids, it was a whirlwind of a week.
On Wednesday, the kids arrived in the Big Apple and were introduced to the director of the program, Van Kaplan, the executive producer of Pittsburg CLO. Everyone hit the ground running as the rehearsal process began that very night with choreographer Kiesha Lalama and musical director Michael Moricz.
Come Thursday, the students were paired up with a Broadway professional for vocal coaching. These pros included Krystal Joy Brown (Motown), Andrea Burns (In the Heights), Adam Cantor (Rent), Renee Elise Goldsberry (The Lion King), and Julia Murney (Wicked). With 12 students to a coach, contestants really had the opportunity to be personally mentored and receive individual attention while preparing their solo numbers. Coaches not only helped students harness their vocal abilities, but also taught them the importance of personalizing their work and bringing themselves to the characters. The whole experience was one generation of artists fostering the next!
The excitement and celebrity power didn’t stop there. For lunch that day, MTI sponsored a luncheon with- wait for it – Stephen Schwartz!! Schwartz, a legendary Tony winning composer and lyricist, is the mastermind behind numerous iconic musicals such as Godspell and Wicked. The kids then headed over to Broadway’s favorite: Sardi’s Restaurant for an evening dinner sponsored by The Shubert Organization. To top off the night, the students headed to Broadway and attended the Tony Winning musical Kinky Boots followed by a talkback with the cast (yes, including Tony®-winner Billy Porter).
Show rehearsal continued on Friday and Saturday, and on Sunday, the nominees performed for the first time in front of the Jimmy Award judges including Kent Gash (Founding Director of The New Studio on Broadway, NYU Tisch School of the Arts Department of Drama), Rachel Hoffman (Casting Director, Telsey + Company), Arielle Tepper Madover (Tony® Award-winning producer), Tara Rubin (Casting Director), Nick Scandalios (Executive Vice President of the Nederlander Organization), Sergio Trujillo (award-winning Broadway choreographer). This marked the official start of the competition. During that performance, all 56 contestants performed in a medley highlighting the role for which they were nominated regionally as well as the solo piece they had prepared for with their coach.
Throughout the week, ShowbizU documented the Jimmy’s journey from start to finish. Wanna see some pics? Check out our instagram at @SHOWBIZU. We also captured all of our social media contests where contestants got the chance to win prizes like tickets to the off-Broadway hit Heathers and some Stephen Schwartz swag! Check out our exclusive sneak peak behind the scenes:
Before they knew it, Monday night rolled around and it was SHOWTIME!! This year’s show was hosted by past Jimmy winner, Ryan McCartan, who recently played JD in the off-Broadway musical Heathers.
This high-energy, two-hour show opened with an ensemble number that featured a medley of legendary Broadway tunes. Spirits were high as the male and female nominees separately took the stage to perform sets of medleys that featured their nominated roles. Only at the Jimmy Awards could you see Shrek, Sweeny Todd, and the Phantom of the Opera share the same stage.
During intermission, six finalists (Jai’Len Josey, Mekhai Lee, Jonah Rawitz, Matthew Richards, Brooke Salon, and Sophia Tzougros) were announced to perform their solo numbers during the second act. Before the show-stopping finale, the 2014 winners were announced.
This year’s winners were Jai’Len Josey from Atlanta, GA and Jonah Rawitz from Chicago, IL. Josey was nominated for the role of Effie in Dreamgirls and Rawitz for his portrayal of Usnavi in In the Heights.
“I was overwhelmed because I didn’t think I was going to get it” admits winner Josey who was blown away by her talented peers and credits everything to the support she received from her new friends. It’s a special bond formed between Jimmy Awards participants as young artists come together and collaborate over a shared passion. Josey reminisces about the special community, “Coming here feeling like I just have someone to talk to again. It’s just wonderful.”
Although the process seems daunting at times, Rawitz wants to remind next year’s participants to simply,
“Enjoy it. Do not stress out too much, because although it seems like such a short period of time, they prepare you so well and you learn so much.”
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
The Jimmy Awards have helped launch the careers of several past participants who have gone on to great success, performing on Broadway, Off-Broadway and television, appearing in national tours, and even headlining shows in the West End. Others have gone on to attend top theater programs at universities and conservatories including Carnegie Mellon University, New York University, Boston Conservatory, and University of Michigan.
Three past Jimmy contestants who have thanked the Jimmy Awards for their blossoming careers include Eva Noblezada, Ryan McCartan, and Mia Gerachis.From left to right: Eva Noblezada, Ryan McCartan, and Mia Gerachis. Images via nhsmta.
Finalist Eva Noblezada was discovered at the 2013 Jimmy Awards by Broadway casting director, Tara Rubin. Noblezada now performs in the leading role of Kim in Miss Saigon in the West End in London.
Ryan McCartan, the winner of the Best Performance by an Actor in 2011 and this year’s awards show host, originated the role of JD in the Off-Broadway musical Heathers. He is also currently playing the character Diggie on the hit Disney Channel sitcom Liv and Maddie.
Mia Gerachis, a 2011 participant, now attends New York University where she studies musical theater at the New Studio on Broadway. During her time at the Jimmys, she had the opportunity to work closely with the NSB faculty. Gerachis worked on her solo number with faculty member and Tony nominated actor Micheal McElroy (Rent), who now teaches Gerachis weekly in Vocal Performance class at New York University.
Gerachis describes her experience at the Jimmy Awards as unforgettable, and recalls performing with such talented peers as an experience that,
“Fosters a great sense of collaboration amongst talent… everyone was really passionate about creating a great piece of art.” If Gerachis could offer any advice to emerging performers, it would be to “take advantage of every training resource possible and learn to do it all.”
Gerachis is currently studying acting, singing, dancing, music theory, sight-singing, AND theater studies at New York University.
Surely this year’s cast will be no exception to achieving great success in the performing arts world. Who knew that stepping out onto your own high school stage could be a one-way ticket to your Broadway debut?
What was your favorite part of the 2014 Jimmy Awards?