A teenager from Connecticut who sang songs from popular Broadway hits like "Newsies" and another from California who nailed the sassy tune "Raunchy" from the musical "110 in the Shade" won top honors Monday night at the National High School Musical Theater Awards.
Sarah Lynn Marion, from Fullerton, Calif., was named best actress and Taylor Vargo from Norwich, Conn., got the best actor crown at the fifth annual "Glee"-like competition, nicknamed the Jimmy Awards after theater owner James Nederlander.
Both top winners will 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 come from 20 states.
Marion, who studies at Huntington Beach High School for the Performing Arts and had sung a segment from "Hello, Dolly," absolutely nailed the song "Raunchy," 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.
Vargo, 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 at the top of the show 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 were 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."
During their 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 judging process with one word: "brutal." The hosts were Laura Osnes and Santino Fontana, who co-star in "Rodgers + Hammerstein's Cinderella."