NEW YORK (AP) — One brought leading man grace. One brought a little raunch. Together they left New York with the top National High School Musical Theater Awards.
Sarah Lynn Marion, from Fullerton, Calif., was named best actress and Taylor Varga from Newtown, Conn., won the best actor crown at the fifth annual “Glee”-like competition for musical teenagers, nicknamed the Jimmy Awards after theater owner James Nederlander.
Both top winners receive a $10,000 scholarship award, capping a months-long winnowing process that began with 50,000 students from 1,000 schools and ended at the Minskoff Theatre, the long-term home of “The Lion King.” This year’s contestants came from 20 states.
Marion, a senior at Huntington Beach High School for the Performing Arts, had sung a segment from “Hello, Dolly” earlier in the night and then absolutely nailed the “110 in the Shade” song “Raunchy,” a sexy, needy tune with the appropriate lyric, “Gonna make them other gals turn green.”
In her acceptance speech, she thanked her teachers, her parents, her four siblings, her friends and all fellow contestants. “And my first grade teacher who gave me my first role as Jack’s mother in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk,’” she said. In the past few years, she’s also had roles in school productions of “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” ”Damn Yankees” and “Xanadu.”
Varga, who attends Newtown High School, was one of two J. Pierrepont Finches from “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and delivered a touching “Santa Fe” from “Newsies” for his solo. “I’m a little lost for words,” he said, before thanking his family and friends who made the trip from Connecticut.
The 62 teens who made it to New York — 31 girls and 31 boys — got a five-day theatrical boot camp at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, complete with scrambling to learn an opening and closing group number, intense advice on their solo songs, plus a field trip to watch “Annie” on Broadway and dinner at famed theater-district hangout Sardi’s.
All 62 performed snippets of the songs that they had sung at regional competitions as part of seven large medleys and then seven finalists — three boys and four girls — were asked to sing solos. The final winners were picked from the last seven.
All had to switch from black dresses for the ladies and dark suits for the men into their character costumes for their medleys and then back again. Their performances were backed by a nine-piece orchestra.
The five runners-up, who each receive $2,500, were: Martha Hellerman from Madison, Wis.; Eva Maria Noblezada from Charlotte, N.C.; Jillian Caillouette from Norwich, Conn.; Michael Burrell from Mission Viejo, Calif.; and Austin Crute from Atlanta.
There was a fair amount of overlapping of roles, with two Belles from “Beauty and the Beast,” two Miss Adelaides from “Guys and Dolls” and a memorable set of five Bakers from “Into the Woods,” who all thrown on stage to duke it out together.
The irreverent show “Avenue Q” had two representatives, complete with puppets, and there was a tap dancing Billy Crocker from “Anything Goes” and a gun-toting Annie Oakley in “Annie Get Your Gun.” Shows ranged from “Chicago” to “Sweeney Todd” to “Les Miserables” and “In the Heights.”
Cheers were saved for the director, Van Kaplan, and choreographer, Kiesha Lalama, who managed to makes transitions between characters seamless. At one point, Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof” sang “If I Were a Rich Man” and then handed it over to the money-grubbing J. Pierrepont Finches.
During their New York visit, the teens were tutored one-on-one by theater pros Leslie Odom Jr., Liz Callaway, Michael McElroy and Telly Leung. The judges Monday night included Tony-winning director Scott Ellis, Tony nominee Montego Glover and casting professional Bernie Telsey. One judge was overheard summing up the behind-door-process process with one word: “brutal.” The hosts were Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, who co-star in “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.”
Mark Kennedy can be reached at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits