The National High School Theatre Awards (nicknamed the Jimmy Awards after the late Broadway producer James M. Nederlander) celebrates its landmark 10th year at the Minskoff Theatre on Monday, June 25.
Hosted by Tony winner Laura Benanti, the show will feature performances by 80 high school students from across the country (selected for the roles they brought to their respective high school productions) who gathered in New York City for a nine-day professional training intensive with NYU Tisch faculty members and other theater professionals. They're now in final preparations for their Broadway debuts, as well as the chance to compete for this year's coveted Best Actor and Best Actress awards, which come with generous university and conservatory scholarships.
In honor of the program's 10-year milestone, meet 10 of the 2018 Jimmy Awards finalists and find out which cast albums are always in their ears and which roles they hope to bring to Broadway someday.
Johanna Loughran, 18 — Pittsburgh
Cassie, A Chorus Line
First role you ever played onstage: The first role I ever played onstage was the Baby Kangaroo in Seussical when I was 9 at a Pittsburgh CLO Academy summer camp.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: My most played cast album is definitely Hamilton. I'm always listening to "Non-Stop."
Broadway idol: My Broadway idol is Leslie Odom Jr. His voice is so pure and his acting is phenomenal. He can really tell a story.
Dream role: My dream role is Eponine from Les Misérables.
Emily Mesa, 18 — Houston
Esmeralda, The Hunchback of Notre-Dame
First role you ever played onstage: Funnily enough, my first role was only three years ago. I played a salt shaker in Beauty and the Beast. My first lead role, however, was last year as Eponine in Les Misérables.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: It's always changing, but recently I've been listening to Mean Girls's "Apex Predator" on repeat.
Broadway idol: Steven Sondheim.
Dream role: I have a few! Sally in Cabaret, The Witch in Into the Woods, Lily in Anastasia, Diana in A Chorus Line!
Ethan Holtzman, 18 — Charlotte, North Carolina
The Baker, Into the Woods
First role you ever played onstage: Thomas O'Malley the Alley Cat from Aristocats.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: Most played cast album is High School Musical 2 (a guilty pleasure). Most played song is hands down "Bet on It."
Broadway idol: Carly Rae Jepsen.
Dream role: My dream role is Kyle the UPS Guy in Legally Blonde.
Bennett Chew, 18 — Logan, Utah
Jean Valjean, Les Misérables
First role you ever played onstage: In the first grade, my first role that I ever played was Nicki in The Mitten, a musical put on by my elementary school.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: One of the few musical cast albums that I own is the original Broadway cast of Les Misérables, and it is by far my favorite. The most played track off of that album is "Epilogue."
Broadway idol: I have two idols on Broadway: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Lea Salonga. Lin-Manuel Miranda has made some of the most innovative musicals on Broadway, such as Hamilton and In the Heights. I am inspired by his passion and amazing talent that he has brought to the community. I look up to Lea Salonga for being one of the few Asian actors on Broadway, being the first Asian actress to play Eponine and Fantine in Les Misérables, and also for her wonderful work in the revival of Once on This Island, which I was fortunate enough to see in person.
Dream role: Anything on Broadway would be a dream come true! I especially love operatic musicals. The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, The Light in the Piazza, and The Hunchback of Notre Dame would all be wonderful to be a part of.
Maggie Kuntz, 18 — St. Louis
Dolly in Hello, Dolly!
First role you ever played onstage: I was an orphan in Annie at the Muny in St. Louis!
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: Right now, probably Once on This Island; either "The Human Heart" or "Mama Will Provide."
Broadway idol: Kelli O'Hara.
Dream role: Anna in The King and I.
Noah Tobery, 18 — Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania
Jean Valjean, Les Misérables
First role you ever played onstage: A disciple in Godspell.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: Definitely Ragtime, and although "Make Them Hear You" is my go-to audition and performance song, my most played is "'Till We Reach That Day."
Broadway idol: Audra McDonald.
Dream role: My dream role was actually Valjean, and even though I've had the honor of portraying him, I'm not done with him yet. I'd love to play him again.
Bella Campos, 17 — San Antonio
Ado Annie in Oklahoma!
First role you ever played onstage: Oklahoma! was practically my first musical, and let's just say this experience has been nothing short of amazing. But it all started with my first role — Zombie Cheerleader #4. It was my seventh-grade year and my middle school was doing a spring play. I was so nervous to audition, and when I got cast in the ensemble, I'd be lying if I said I didn't cry out of pure joy. I didn't care how big my role was, or that I had to be covered in fake blood for an hour and a half, but I was so happy at the simple fact that I could be someone else on a stage.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: At the moment, I listen to Once on This Island more than two times a day. It isn't the drums or the belting (which is amazing) that intrigues me, but it is the memory recall I have from seeing that show. When I saw it, my heart was cured from my decomposing ideals of heart and love. There isn't a show like it.
Broadway idol: My Broadway idol has to be Bernadette Peters because of the endless roles she has played. She is not defined by her "type" and proves to the world that she can play the sexy ingenue or the wacky witch. She tells younger kids that they can be limitless as well.
Dream role: My dream role would have to be Mia in La La Land. To originate this role on Broadway would be a dream because she experiences the pain struggling actors go through every day. Playing a person onstage and being able to have other actors relate to me would be incredible.
Natalie Leclair, 17 — Rochester, New York
Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins
First role you ever played onstage: The first role I ever played onstage was July (an orphan) in Annie.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: My most played cast album is The Bridges of Madison County, with my favorite track starring Steven Pasquale and Kelli O'Hara, "One Second and A Million Miles." Their voices together are angelic. They are both such powerhouses!
Broadway idol: My Broadway idol would have to be Jessie Mueller. Her versatility is unbelievable! Going from a classical, legit sound to a jazzy mix at the drop of a hat is a normal day for her, which I admire so much. Her moving storytelling abilities cannot be ignored either! AGH!
Dream role: My dream role is Sally Bowles, in Cabaret. It seems like a very exciting show to be in, all while telling very powerful messages that I think are worth our time and attention.
Cole Duffy, 18 — Las Vegas
Eddie Birdlace, Dogfight
First role you ever played onstage: Will Parker from Oklahoma!
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: Spring Awakening; "The Bitch of Living."
Broadway idol: Derek Klena.
Dream role: Moritz Stiefel [from Spring Awakening].
Elisha Horne, 18 — Denver
The Baker, Into the Woods
First role you ever played onstage: I played the role of Jafar in Aladdin Jr.
Most played cast album and the most played track on that cast album: My most played album is the original cast recording of Sunday in the Park With George, and my most played track is "Move On."
Broadway idol: Brian Stokes Mitchell.
Dream role: Sweeney in Sweeney Todd.
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