Meet Some of This Year’s Jimmy Award Nominees... And Watch Them Dance

Special Features   Meet Some of This Year’s Jimmy Award Nominees... And Watch Them Dance
 
This year, 72 teens from around the country compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards—and in a first, it’s all digital.

After last year’s Jimmy Awards ceremony was scrapped entirely due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National High School Musical Theatre Awards are making sure the best of the best student performers get their chance in the spotlight—at least virtually—this year.

Broadway alum and High School Musical star Corbin Bleu will host the 2021 edition, streaming July 15. A record 72 students are taking part in the Broadway League-presented competition, having already earned the title Best Actor or Best Actress in one of 36 regional programs around the country.

Typically, the finalists take part in a boot camp-style rehearsal process in New York City before taking the stage for the live final showcase. This year, students have rehearsed remotely, receiving virtual coaching sessions and learning their parts for the ceremony’s signature medleys without officially meeting their costars.

Ahead of the stream, get to know five of this year’s nominees below. Some were able to take to the stage in an abnormal academic year; some landed a spot via an solo performance-style audition; all are names to look out for as Broadway’s marquees light up once again.

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Bryson Battle
Regional Program: Blumey Awards (Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina)
Nominated for: Solo performances of “Heaven on Their Minds” (Jesus Christ Superstar) and “Barrett’s Song” (Titanic)

Is there a particular theatre artist whose work inspired you to become a performer?
If I had to pick just one, it has to be Alex Newell. He was and is such a powerhouse performer and someone who in several parts of my life has inspired me, and he has been someone I have related to. The performance has to be his "Mama Will Provide" [from Once On This Island]. Watching him perform was so joyous and vocally impressive—I knew that was what I wanted to do.

How have you bonded with your fellow nominees while rehearsing remotely?
I have definitely bonded with my fellow nominees—of course some more than others, with it being so difficult to connect with 72 individuals. I felt particularly connected with my Medley group; they have become some of my closest friends. While driving home from rehearsal we were able to have a very intellectual conversation about the direction the theatre industry is going in, covering many controversial topics, and it made me so happy and safe to be in an environment where I felt comfortable voicing my opinion—and that others felt the same.

What have you learned from your Jimmy Awards mentor?
My Jimmy Awards Coach was Janet Dacal, and she was amazing. One thing she said that will always stick with me was that within an industry where we are constantly told no, we tend to think that people on the other side of the table are praying for our downfall, when in actuality they want us to succeed; they want us to be the answer to their problems. That shift of perspective has made me so inspired to audition and excited for my future as a performer.

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Ronald Spoto
Regional Program: Broadway Star of the Future Awards (Straz Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa, Florida)
Nominated for: Jimmy Ray Dobbs, Bright Star

Is there a particular performance that inspired you to perform yourself?
When I was eight, my grandparents took me to see the national tour of Mary Poppins at the theatre that would eventually become my Regional Award program. I had seen and loved theatrical productions before, but seeing a professionally mounted show made me realize that I wanted to be more than just a spectator: I wanted to make the same magic I had experienced for other people.

What has been the most challenging aspect of this virtual process?
It was very challenging to independently time manage and stay motivated. Even at such a high-profile program, eight to nine hours on Zoom is still draining, and I had to consistently remind myself that I had to prioritize my own well-being. Getting plenty of rest and making time for relaxation was key to being successful at the Jimmys. I will say, it was truly a blessing to watch and work with so many other kids who are just as passionate as I am about musical theatre. Their work ethics, wide array of talents, and genuine personalities were so inspiring.

What are your hopes for the theatre community as Broadway reopens?
I hope that producers will prioritize making their shows accessible to people of all ages and walks of life. Too often, people are unable to see shows due to ticket prices and location. During the shutdown, we got to see how impactful the Hamilton film from Disney+ was to audiences that don't typically watch Broadway. While filming every Broadway show isn't necessarily a feasible option, making Broadway more inclusive to all should be at the top of the list upon returning. Broadway is for everyone.

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Ryleigh Andrews
Regional Program: The Kelli O’Hara Awards (OKC Broadway in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma)
Nominated for: The Witch, Into the Woods

Is there a particular theatre artist whose work inspired you to become a performer?
A performer who reignited my love for theatre was Carmen Cusack, namely her role as Alice Murphy in Bright Star. Her vulnerability and generosity as an actress deeply moved me.

What has been the most exciting moment during virtual rehearsals?
When all the members of Medley C got to hear the recording of our song. There were moments of loneliness while working on recordings or during filming sessions, but it was exhilarating to hear all of our voices unified bringing about such a wonderful sound.

What have you learned from your Jimmy Awards mentor?
Jenni Barber truly changed my mindset on musical theatre. She reminded me that every moment and every song is an adventure. I was able to simply have fun with my solo because of Jenni’s encouragement and insight.

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Jada Bunch
Regional Program: The Orpheum High School Musical Theatre Awards (Memphis, Tennessee)
Nominated for: Solo performances of “Fabulous, Baby!” (Sister Act) and “Losing My Mind” (Follies)

Is there a particular theatre artist whose work inspired you to become a performer?
I discovered Cynthia Erivo several years ago, and that changed everything for me. She is truly an icon.

How have you bonded with your fellow nominees while rehearsing remotely?
The most challenging aspect of this virtual process was definitely not being able to perform in person with these incredible nominees. There's something magical that happens when performing in person, but being so far away, we knew we had to do something to get to know other. We had each others backs those two weeks. I remember getting so many messages reminding me to stay hydrated and rest up. We immediately followed each other on social media, exchanged phone numbers, and created group chats. It was incredibly special, and so fun!

What are your hopes for the theatre community as Broadway reopens?
As Broadway reopens, I hope for more diversity and inclusion. Representation matters.

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Wilson Ha
Regional Program: Playhouse Square Dazzle Awards (Cleveland, Ohio)
Nominated for: Man 1, Songs for a New World

What has been the most challenging aspect of this virtual process?
Performing for a camera is so much different than performing on stage. In a lot of ways, I felt that I had to change my acting style to be a little more subtle. When you’re on stage, there is considerable distance between you and the audience, so you can afford to be a little exaggerated. In the virtual process, the audience is about a foot away from you. They see every detail. While it’s definitely been an obstacle, it has exponentially helped me improve my performing skills as well as my problem solving skills.

What have you learned from your Jimmy Awards mentor?
My Jimmy Awards coach was Eliseo Roman, and he was an absolute gem. One thing I’ve learned from him that I will definitely hold onto as a performer is to make every performance your own. No matter how well known or iconic a song is and no matter how someone else has done it, your rendition of a song should always be unique. Eli taught me that there is always something I can use—whether it be emotions, connecting to the lyrics, or singing style—to claim a song as my own and reflect who I am in it.

What are your hopes for the theatre community as Broadway reopens?
I hope that it becomes more inclusive to all types of people who want to engage in this art form. I think historically, there are a lot of groups that have been left out of Broadway because there are not that many roles that have been written that fit their identities. Whether it be race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual identity, or something else, I am hopeful that Broadway makes more space for minorities and underserved groups as well as creates roles and archetypes that are open to or call for people of different identities.

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