Tomorrow's Broadway Stars Celebrated at the Jimmy Awards

June 29, 2017

Anyone worried about the future of live musical theater in a world full of tablets and earbuds and endlessly streaming video would have been relieved to be at the Minskoff Theatre on Monday night, as dozens of young singer-dancer-actors from all over the country paraded their formidable talents. No, it wasn’t a performance of The Lion King, the theater’s usual tenant. The Minskoff was borrowed for the night by the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, better known as the Jimmy Awards.

The competition set out in 2009 to celebrate and inspire the next generation of both artists and audiences by honoring the gifted students who perform in their high schools’ musical theater programs.

This year’s fast-paced and entertaining show was slickly directed by Van Kaplan, spiffily choreographed by Kiesha Lalama and charmingly hosted by Ben Platt, who just won the Tony for his dazzling turn as a tormented teen in Dear Evan Hansen. But there were no tormented teens among the 74 nominees onstage Monday. We saw three demonic Sweeney Todds, two determined Jo Marches, a Phantom, a Beast, a Witch and a slinky, long-legged Velma Kelly.

Anna Hertel (in black) performing in costume as Velma Kelly. Photo by Henry McGee, Courtesy The Broadway League.

That was 17-year-old Anna Hertel, from Ardrey Kell High School in Charlotte, North Carolina, who took home the Jimmy for best dancer. She started ballet classes at 7, quickly added jazz, tap and hip-hop, and, at 10, played an Oompa Loompa in a local production of Willy Wonka. The same year, she saw her first Broadway show, Wicked, and decided that she “wanted to do the singing and the dancing and the acting all together. I absolutely fell in love with it.”

Anna Hertel as Velma Kelly at the regional Blumey Awards

Reflecting yesterday on her experience as a Jimmy nominee, she noted how amazing it was to perform on a Broadway stage “with kids who have the same passion as you.” And, she adds, “We’re all winners—everyone that’s there has their own thing that makes them so talented.”

Best performance winners Tony Moreno and Sofia Deler with host Ben Platt. Photo by Henry McGee, Courtesy The Broadway League.

She’s not just being complimentary, she’s being accurate. The Jimmy nominees are all winners of regional competitions in which contestants reprise the roles they did in their high school musicals. Winners of the best actor and actress prizes in their local competitions go on to New York for an intensive that culminates in the annual awards show. This year, contenders came from 21 states and brought numbers from 43 different musicals. They got to hone their performances with personalized coaching from Broadway professionals, and they also learned and rehearsed the routines for Monday’s grand finale at the Minskoff.

This year’s production numbers included a tribute to the late James M. Nederlander, the producer and theater owner for whom the Jimmys were named. (He was one of the founders, along with Kaplan, executive producer of the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera.) But the highlights of every show are the medleys, in which 40 semi-finalists, costumed for their roles, do excerpts from the performances that earned them the chance to vie for the top Jimmys (and the scholarship money that comes along with them). On Monday, the judges awarded the best performance prizes to Sofia Deler and Tony Moreno, both from Orlando. But the real winners were the audience and the American musical theater, which has a lot of young talent coming its way.