“Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” So begins the song “Pure Imagination“ from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the opening medley of the ninth annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards, a.k.a. the Jimmy Awards.
The awards, hosted by Tony winner Ben Platt, took place last night at the Minskoff Theatre. High school students from 37 regional programs competed for the Jimmy for Best Performance by an Actor and Actress. The winners were Tony Moreno and Sofia Deler, selected by a panel of judges comprised of notable theater professionals.
The evening began with all 74 students performing that medley of songs from current Broadway musicals, including “Journey to the Past” and “We’ll Go From There” from Anastasia, “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” from Hello, Dolly!, “Waving Through a Window” from Dear Evan Hansen, and the finale from Come From Away.
The ceremony was the culmination of five days of private coaching, master classes, and rehearsals, giving students the tools to pursue careers in theater. At an opening-number rehearsal a few days before the ceremony, choreographer Keisha Lalama told the students that by practicing so much, the dance becomes muscle memory, and once they trust that they know it, they can have fun, which is what happens in Broadway shows eight performances a week. She told them to “find the joy.”
It was clear that though the students were working hard, they were enjoying themselves as well. “This week has been amazing. I think the most amazing thing that I didn’t expect was how fast I would make friends and meet amazing, incredibly talented kids from all over the country and so many kids who I’m sure I will meet again in my lifetime, and I hope that I do,” said Maddie Rubin, 17, a New York City finalist after winning The Roger Rees Awards for Excellence in Student Performance.
“The craziest thing to me is that we all won best actor in our state, so we’re pretty big fish from small ponds. And now we’re here and everyone is on the same level,” said Dean Klebonas, 18, the other New York finalist. “Now we’re all little fish in a really big pond, so it’s crazy being surrounded by so many incredible people.”
Of the 74 students, 11 had never been to New York before and 13 had never seen a Broadway show until they all attended Come From Away together. But the Jimmy Awards was a singular experience for all of them. “I’m so excited to perform in a Broadway house. That’s insane. It also terrifies me. But I think I’m most excited to see what everyone else has been working on because we’ve sort of been in our own bubbles with our medley groups and our coaching groups,” said Rubin. Klebonas added, “I’m excited to see everyone’s faces when they first walk on the stage. That’s going to be the most special thing to me.”