The dream of performing on Broadway came true last month for 74 high school actors, singers and dancers, selected from 50,000 young performers from across the United States. They came to New York to compete for the Jimmy Awards.
While the Tony Awards celebrate the best of Broadway's professional theater, the Jimmy Awards, named for the late Broadway theater owner and producer James Nederlander, are given to the country's best high school musical theater performers.
Seventeen year-old Felix Torrez came from Green Bay, Wisconsin. His performance as the Beast in Beauty and the Beast at his high school won him a spot in the competition.
"Being here already is an award itself," Felix said. "Being able to perform on Broadway as a high-schooler … I just want to soak it all in."
That's how 18-year-old Jasmine Rogers from Houston, Texas, felt, too. She played the Witch in Into the Woods. Unlike Felix, she’s seen many Broadway shows.
"I didn't get into musical theater until I was seven. I used to play the violin and I was bad at it," she admitted with a laugh. "And one day a flier came home to do a production of Peter Pan. And so I auditioned and I fell in love with it from there on and I've been doing it since."
Rehearsals and opportunities
For eight days, these teenagers were pushed hard. Only a few days after that first rehearsal, they had staged the opening number.
Kiesha Lalama, the show’s choreographer, said she expects a lot from these teenagers. "You know, if you treat them like professionals and really just challenge them to rise up, they do. And that's what I think is so amazing about it, is that these kids are willing and able. And if you provide them with the opportunity they can thrive."
Each participant is coached by a Broadway actor, including Howard McGillin, who has performed The Phantom of the Opera more than anyone else.
Monday morning was dress rehearsal, and just a few hours later, the curtain went up before a sold-out house on Broadway.
When the finalists were announced, Rogers was one of them. And so, in front of friends, family and a lot of important Broadway producers and casting directors, she sang, all alone, in a spotlight, center stage.
She didn’t win the best actress award, but the experience was a bigger prize.
Both Rogers and Torrez made new friends, polished their performing skills, and came away with the confidence that they would definitely be back on Broadway.
LISTEN: Jimmy Awards