News Column

Western Pa. high school musical stars competing for Jimmy award in NYC

July 1, 2013

YellowBrix

July 01--Four area high-school musical stars are among the 62 performers competing for a 2013 Jimmy award in New York.

Founded in 2009 and officially known as the National High School Musical Theater Awards, the intensive five-day program brings together prize-winning performers from 31 regional high-school musical-awards competitions sponsored by performing-arts organizations.

The best performance by an actor and best performance by an actress awards are called Jimmys in honor of Broadway producer and theater owner James M. Nederlander

Sewickley resident Rachael Houser, 18, and North Side resident Angelo Ragghianti, 18, represent the Gene Kelly Awards after being recognized as best actress and best actor in this year's competition.

Ellwood City resident Francesca Nardone, 18, and Conway resident Zach Malinak, 18, successfully auditioned for their spots after being among the 13 students nominated as outstanding male or outstanding female in a leading role for the 2013 Henry Mancini Awards program.

"This is a really great experience," says Malinak, who received Mancini Awards recognition for his performance as Tevye in of "Fiddler on the Roof" at Freedom Area High School. "I wanted to be here for the experience. How many people can say they were nominated for Jimmys?"

During their stay in New York City, the students participate in workshops, private coaching sessions and master classes; attend a Broadway show; network with industry professionals; and rehearse for the competition.

"We get up at 7 every day and work until 10:15 at night," says Ragghianti, who played Usnavi in "In the Heights" at Pittsburgh CAPA. "It's a little more grueling than at CAPA, and it's different because you don't know everybody."

The program climaxes July 1 at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway with a display of individual and collective talents during a showcase for an audience of judges and others.

Winners of the national awards for best performance by an actor and best performance by an actress receive opportunities for merit scholarships, professional advancement and other prizes. But two days into the experience, prizes and scholarships did not seem to be the priority.

"I'm just here for the experience -- to be in New York and make a connection with the business. I want to soak in every minute," says Houser, who played Reno Sweeney in "Anything Goes" at Quaker Valley High School.

"To say I was on Broadway has always been one of my dreams," says Nardone, who played Eponine in "Les Miserables" at Lincoln Junior-Senior High School.

She is happy to be meeting people who are working in theater, such as Point Park University graduate Kirstin Tucker, a performer in the Broadway production of "Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella" who talked with the participants about her education and her work as assistant dance captain.

For some, like Malinak, the experience may cause them to re-think their career goals.

Malinak has been planning to major in communications and theater art, thinking he might become a theater-arts teacher.

But he's having second thoughts: "Now that I've made it here and knowing I can make it this far and getting compliments from my peers really boosts you up."

Nardone, who was planning to major in English and go into public relations is also reconsidering.

"This is definitely changing my mind," Nardone says. "It's absolutely going to have to be something to think about when I get home."

Houser is only more convinced that performing is what she wants to do.

"It has definitely reinforced my desire to be here," she says. "What it teaches you is that there are people as good as you and (others who are) better than you. But we are all so vastly different."

Asked whether he thought he had a chance of taking home a Jimmy, Ragghianti replies: "I have no idea. There's so much talent here. But I'm having the time of my life."

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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(c)2013 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

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