Sutton Foster took center stage at the fifth annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as NHSMTA or the Jimmys (named for legendary Broadway producer and theater owner James N. Nederlander). Well, not actually Sutton Foster, but virtually every role the two-time Tony winner ever played. The ceremony, hosted by Cinderella leads Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, featured competition-style performances, and was held on July 1 at the Minskoff Theatre, where aspiring stage stars belted out favorites from Foster's resume like Thoroughly Modern Millie, Anything Goes, Little Women and The Drowsy Chaperone, as well as such shows as Tony-winning musicals Spring Awakening and Avenue Q. Despite the many dazzling performances, only two of the young performers walked away with the top prize.
Sarah Lynn Marion won for playing the title character in Hello, Dolly!, and Taylor Varga nabbed the Best Actor trophy for his work as J. Pierrepont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. The nominees sang, as their characters, in musical medleys, and later took center stage for solo numbers: Marion's performed "Raunchy" from 110 in the Shade, while Varga killed it with "Santa Fe" from Newsies. Both winners garnered $10,000 scholarships funded by NHSMTA.
Though Varga may have been crowned one of the two most talented high school actors in the country, he’s headed for the office, not the stage. The Newtown, Connecticut senior will attend Ithaca College in the fall to pursue a business degree with a minor in theater. “In college I want to take a different approach with what I want to do," Varga told Broadway.com, "so I’m studying business.” Marion, a senior from Fullerton, California, plans to attend community college before applying to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts to continue her pursuit of theater. “I like that I get to be this alternate personality that I don’t really get to be on a day-to-day basis,” the winner said of performing.
Judges included Tony nominee Montego Glover and several Broadway casting agents, who narrowed the list down from 62 nominees to seven finalists (who sangs solos from such wide-ranging musicals as Parade, Ghost the Musical and Kinky Boots) before choosing Marion and Varga. How did they judge such a wide array of participants? “I’m looking for someone who shows an understanding of the art form in its raw element," Glover said. "That’s what college is for, to give you a sharpened skill set. And if I get more than that, I’m over the moon.”
If the Jimmys were a real high school, Sutton Foster would be its valedictorian, head cheerleader, prom queen and mascot. Finalists Jillian Caillouette and Eva Maria Noblezada called Foster their Broadway inspiration. “Everything about her—her voice, her legs, her whole entire being—it’s just absolutely flawless,” exclaimed Noblezada.
In addition to Foster, the nominees are obsessed with a certain haunted Paris Opera House. Two of the seven finalists (including winner Marion) said their ultimate Broadway fantasy would be starring in the long-running The Phantom of the Opera. Marion chose the role of opera singer Carlotta as her dream role: “She’s a diva and wonderful and glamorous and perfect and I want to be her forever and ever and ever and ever.” Meanwhile, finalist Michael Burrell wants to play The Phantom himself, because of the challenging "emotion behind his character."
Many of Broadway's youngest stars (from such shows as Annie, The Lion King and Matilda) sat in the front row for the big event, and were clearly mesmerized as the high schoolers performed their musical numbers. They were the loudest cheerleaders in the packed house. Perhaps if these talented teens need a job as they rise to stardom, they should take up babysitting? Who else can keep a dozen tweens quiet and entertained for over two hours?