Friday, July 2, 2010

The 2010 Jimmy Awards take their final bows

When we last checked in with the JimmyTM Awards hopefuls, they were still wide-eyed and waiting to make their Broadway debut at the Marquis Theatre in Times Square. As if the previous five days up until this point hadn't provided them with enough of an adrenaline rush, there was no shortage of additional drama (the good kind) as this theater crowd rounded out their final 24 hours together in New York City.

A final meeting before "Places!"
Even before the students retired to the dressing rooms for last-minute hair adjustments or any good luck/anti-jitters rituals, the NHS Musical Theater Awards™ directors hosted a private pre-show awards ceremony for the nominees. In a quiet corner of the Marquis Theatre, NHS Musical Theater Awards President Van Kaplan and Project Director/Choreographer Kiesha Lalama-White offered the group praise for the commitment they displayed during the nearly nonstop rehearsals leading up to the show, and, of course, also gave the nominees a pep-talk for the night ahead. As the participants unwrapped the small gift boxes they each received from the directors, each became the proud new owner of his or her own Jimmy™ Award – a token of appreciation for the unwavering enthusiasm all 44 nominees brought to program.
But, for several students, that wasn't the end of the line in receiving accolades before the show began. New this year, in addition to the two Jimmy™ Awards for Best Performance by an Actor and Actress, three awards were given to nominees who exemplified a "star performance" in other aspects of the show. Sarah Schultz (John Raitt Awards for Youth in Fullerton, CA) won the title of "Best Performance in an Ensemble," demonstrating all of the qualities it takes to be a true team player when you're performing in a group setting. Arsalan Akhavan (Shuler Hensley Awards for Excellence in Atlanta, GA) won the title of "Most Improved," after he took his directors' suggestions throughout the week to heart and made sure to incorporate their notes into each performance. Finally, Claire Gerig (Jester Awards in Wichita, KS) won the "Spirit of the Jimmys," in recognition of the passion, hard work, respect and talent she embodied during each part of the NHS Musical Theater Awards™. Curtains up!
After the pre-show festivities wrapped up, the jitters died down and the nominees enjoyed a photo-opportunity with some of the high-profile Broadway names who came to see them perform, it was time for the Jimmy™ Awards to take the stage. Playing to a house packed with their biggest fans - friends and family who’d traveled from as far away as California, Missouri, Texas and elsewhere to see them perform - and, not to mention, number of seasoned “showbiz” professionals, any nerves they may have had going into the show were nowhere to be seen once the orchestra started playing.
From start to finish, the group treated the audience to a stellar revue of all things Broadway. They balanced old standards (with an appearance of West Side Story in the opening number, and melodies from South Pacific, Les Miserables, Mame and other favorites throughout the medleys) with contemporary musicals (featuring songs from The Addams Family, American Idiot and In the Heights in their group numbers). They also showcased a "triple-threat" of musical talent, as the students weren't just singing, but often dancing and acting at the same time. This was especially true during the medleys, where the characters from the participants' winning roles came together. In moments such as that when Sweeney Todd, for example, offered consolation to a downtrodden Charlie Brown, or when Rose from Gypsy pushed a youthful Peter Pan away in favor of her own spot center stage, the students (and their directors, who provided the vision for these witty combinations) kept the audience cheering and laughing throughout the whole first act.
While everyone took a brief intermission, the judges met to determine their top Jimmy™ Awards contenders, and as the second act resumed the excitement still showed no signs of stopping. The second act opened with a tribute to Come Fly Away, After all, little did everyone know before the nominees crowded onstage at the top of Act II to hear the finalists' names announced, but the seven judges had decided to offer up their own plot twist for the evening - choosing four male finalists instead of three because of a tie. Once the audience, and the nominees themselves, had gotten over the initial surprise at this change in plans, the four male finalists - Alex Field (Gene Kelly Awards in Pittsburgh, PA), Matt Hill (The Stage's Top Honor Awards in San Jose, CA), John Jorge (Connecticut High School Music Theater Awards in Norwich, CT) and Kyle Selig (Footlighters Scholarship Awards in Long Beach, CA) - and the three female finalists - Alexandria Payne (Shuler Hensley Awards for Excellence in Atlanta, GA), Katie Sapper (The Globe Honors in San Diego, CA) and Stephanie Styles (Tommy Tune Awards in Houston, TX) - each enjoyed their own moment in the spotlight as they performed their solo pieces.

As the nominees stood together on stage, smiling and holding hands after performing their solos, the crowd erupted in applause as Kyle Selig and Alexandria Payne were announced as the winners of the 2010 Jimmy™ Awards for Best Performance by an Actor and Actress. With the awards, they each received a $10,000 check. They also received the opportunity to go through the application process (both academic and artistic) at New York University, Tisch School of the Arts for possible acceptance into the program. If accepted, they will then be eligible for merit and need based scholarships to the program. And even though they'd just won all of the above, Alexandria and Kyle remained impressively poised as they delivered their acceptance speeches – a quality that most likely carried over as they became the subject of plenty of press coverage in the days following the awards. And once the awards presentation wrapped up, the final number closed the evening on the same high note where it began, with a finale song featuring "Good Riddance" by Green Day (traditionally performed as an encore in the musical American Idiot) and "Don't Stop Believin'" by Journey (featured in Rock of Ages). Together, the nominees sang, "It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right, I hope you had the time of your life" - and it was clear that these were more than just lines in a song to the 44 new friends who were performing one last time together on stage.Time to celebrate!
The NHS Musical Theater Awards™ weren't all work and no play - and what better way to round out a week of rehearsals, and an unforgettable performance, than with a chance for the entire group to celebrate together? Inside the Broadway Lounge of the Marriot Marquis Hotel, featuring a view of Times Square from above, the nominees spent time with their fellow students, the loved ones who came to see them perform, and even got to speak with the Jimmy™ Awards host Kathie Lee Gifford, judge Montego Glover and other famous names who stopped by the reception. And, after discovering a vacant grand piano in the room, the nominees even gave the party guests an impromtu serenade with a few of their favorite standbys - "Seasons of Love" from RENT, "Tiny Dancer" by Elton John, "Piano Man" by Billy Joel and others.
A trip to Telsey + Company
In the final installment of their week in the life of a Broadway professional, the Jimmy™ Awards nominees traveled back uptown near Times Square the next morning to work with the casting professionals at Telsey + Company, led by Bernie Telsey and Rachel Hoffman (who also served as Jimmy™ Awards judges). The group spent the morning experiencing a chance many young actors and actresses would do anything for - the opportunity to participate in a workshop at a casting agency responsible for lining up the performers in a nuimber of shows such as Legally Blonde: The Musical, Memphis and Next to Normal to films such as "Rachel Getting Married" and "Across the Universe." For many of the students, the experience unforgettable and extremely beneficial in giving them even more of a view of the inside of show business.

Now three days removed from the end of the NHS Musical Theater Awards™, many of the participants are likely in the midst of re-adjusting to life in their respective corners of the country. Of course, the transition from dorm living to the comfort of their own rooms and the prospect of relaxing after working round-the-clock for the past week were probably easy to look forward to for the 44 nominees. But the idea of being from the people they'd been working, performing and living with for the past week? Not quite so easy to take. Thankfully, the group is already staying in touch with one another, despite being separated by hundreds (in some cases, thousands) of miles. And as they settle back into their normal routines, some of them may not be on a path toward life in the theater - instead heading off to college in pursuit of another career - but it seems that, no matter where the cast members of the 2010 NHS Musical Theater Awards™ "company" end up, they're planning on maintaining supporting roles in one another's lives for as long as possible.