Jimmys 2023 1200x450
Jimmys 2023 1200x450

Inside the 2023 Jimmy Awards: Celebrating High School Musical Theater

Lauren A. Marchand of New York City and Langston Lee of Austin, Texas, took home the top prizes of Best Performance by an Actress and Actor at the 2023 National High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards. They each received a $25,000 scholarship.

“My reaction to winning was pure shock just because…there was so much talent in the room,” Lee, who performed a song from Anastasia in the first medley of the evening, told Broadway Direct. As a huge Jason Robert Brown fan, he then sang “Wondering” from Brown’s musical The Bridges of Madison County later in the evening when he was selected as one of the eight finalists. Next fall, he will be attending Julliard to study acting.

“If I look back on it, I was very tense before my name was called. It was a Broadway stage. It’s a Broadway debut. I remember feeling this wash of relief come over me. It’s really easy to get into your head. There are so many talented people on that stage with you, you kind of forget yourself. I finally had this beautiful feeling of pride in myself that sometimes I lose,” Marchand told Broadway Direct the next morning.

Langston Lee, Jimmy Awards host Corbin Bleu, and Lauren Marchand. Photo by Tricia Baron.
Langston Lee, Jimmy Awards host Corbin Bleu, and Lauren Marchand. Photo by Tricia Baron.

Marchand and Lee were two of 96 nominees who qualified to compete this year from 48 regional high school musical-theater competitions. Four flew on an airplane for the first time. And on Monday, June 26, Corbin Bleu hosted this year’s ceremony at the Minskoff Theatre, home of The Lion King. Judges included Khady Kamara, Joe Machota, Alecia Parker, T. Oliver Reid, Tara Rubin, Nick Scandalios, Thomas Schumacher, Bernie Telsey, and Sergio Trujillo.

“To me, [performing is] the only thing that gives me passion and joy,” Lee said after winning.

“Dreams really do come true,” Marchand said, crying. “One of the first shows I ever saw was The Lion King. I went with my mom and my dad, and they’re here. And I am here because of you.”

Over the course of the past week, the high schoolers trained with numerous Broadway professionals at Juilliard’s campus, saw their photos on a billboard in Times Square, and were treated to tickets to Some Like It Hot and MJ.

It was 16-year-old Fabiola Caraballo Quijada’s first time seeing a Broadway show, let alone New York City.

“I actually couldn’t believe that I was there,” the upcoming junior from Dallas’ Tyler Legacy High School told Broadway Direct by phone before the ceremony. “I was like, ‘Wow, I’m breathing the same air as Ben Platt right now.’ It was just an experience I’m definitely never gonna forget. It will definitely be engraved in my mind: the theatre, the staging, the lights — everything!”

A Venezuela native, Caraballo Quijada developed her love for musical theater when she came to the United States in 2013. She sang “Easy as Life” from Aida in the medley segments. She says one of the biggest highlights of the experience over the past week was working with her vocal coach, Howard McGillin, who is currently in Parade. “He was just wonderful. I am so excited to work with someone who has so much experience.”

“I’m about to get ready to have one of the biggest shows of my life on Monday. Just knowing that brings the drive,” said 16-year-old Savon Harris by phone the week before the awards.

Harris is a varsity football player (he plays right tackle and defensive end) and musical-theater performer at Mayfield High School in Cleveland. The upcoming senior was part of the touring tribute group singing “Santa Fe” from Rent. “Trying to balance musical theater and doing football, it’s kind of a struggle because sometimes something will conflict. But, at the end of the day, my coaches know this is something I love doing,” Harris said, acknowledging he had never watched the TV show Glee, which featured several characters who did both.

The 2023 Jimmy Awards. Photo by Tricia Baron.
The 2023 Jimmy Awards. Photo by Tricia Baron.

Since the Jimmy Awards’ inception in 2009, participating students have earned more than $6 million in educational scholarships. Many have gone on to be cast in Broadway, touring, and West End productions.

Hadestown star Eva Noblezada was a guest presenter this year. It was her first time back to the Jimmy Awards since she was a finalist in 2013. Two-time Jimmy Award nominee McKenzie Kurtz, currently starring as Glinda in Wicked, introduced the “tribute to touring” Broadway medley.

Also presenting was Andrew Barth Feldman, who won in 2018. He auditioned for Dear Evan Hansen days later. He has since gone on to not only play the title role on Broadway for a year, but is now starring on the silver screen opposite Academy Award winner Jennifer Lawrence in No Hard Feelings.

Feldman has gotten to see a few Jimmy Award alumni on Broadway this year, including Casey Likes in Almost Famous. “I thought he was magnificent. It was such an earnest performance. He was so funny. You couldn’t take your eyes off him. He sounded great. I can’t wait to see him in Back to the Future. Justin Cooley in Kimberly Akimbo — he is doing something so fantastic. He is a brilliant, brilliant performer that I’m a huge fan of. I think he’s going to be a massive star.”

Caraballo Quijadas said Renee Rapp, who won alongside Feldman in 2018, is one of her idols. “I look up to her a lot. Her pop music is also a huge inspiration,” she said.

Feldman left this advice for all the nominees:

“It feels like the stakes are really high and that it’s the ticket to your life changing. But it’s not necessarily. The stakes are actually never going to be lower again in your life. The biggest mistake would be to not enjoy this and look around and see that you’re with some of the most talented young people in the country, doing the thing you love most on Broadway for the first time. It’s an incredible institution and a legacy that you get to be a part of. For me, going into it, my only goal was just to grow as much as possible and become a better performer than I was when I entered it. Winning was just a by-product of that as opposed to my goal.”