SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The Jimmy Awards for high school theater were handed out this week on Broadway. Jeff Lunden followed two of the actors as they got ready to take center stage.
JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: Think of it as Broadway boot camp. Seventy-four high school singers and dancers selected out of a pool of 50,000 kids across America came to New York City to strut their stuff. They met each other over pizza in an overheated rehearsal room. And after some brief greetings...
VAN KAPLAN: Welcome to New York.
LUNDEN: ...They jumped right into the thick of it, learning the opening medley for a show they would perform on Broadway in just one week.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (As characters, singing) Starting now, I'm learning fast.
LUNDEN: Seventeen-year-old Felix Torrez came from Green Bay, Wis. He qualified for the Jimmys by playing the Beast in "Beauty And The Beast" at his high school.
FELIX TORREZ: Being able to perform on Broadway as a high-schooler - I just want to soak it all in.
LUNDEN: Eighteen-year-old Jasmine Rogers from Houston did, too. She played the Witch in "Into The Woods." Unlike Felix, she's seen many Broadway shows.
JASMINE ROGERS: I didn't get into musical theater until I was 7. And one day, a flyer came home to do a production of "Peter Pan." And so I auditioned, and I fell in love with it from there on. And I've been doing it since.
LUNDEN: For eight days, these teenagers were pushed hard. Only a few days after that first rehearsal, they had learned all the choreography for the opening number.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (As characters, singing) Come with me, and you'll be...
LUNDEN: Kiesha Lalama is the show's choreographer. She says she expects a lot from these teenagers.
KIESHA LALAMA: You know, if you treat them like professionals and really just challenge them to rise up, they do. And if you provide them with the opportunity, they can thrive.
LUNDEN: One of those opportunities is that each participant is coached by a Broadway actor. Howard McGillin, who's done more performances of "The Phantom Of The Opera" than anyone in history, coached Felix Torrez.
TORREZ: (As character, singing).
HOWARD MCGILLIN: What is the last line? I'll be damned if what?
LUNDEN: Mind you, it wasn't all work. One night, the nominees had dinner at Sardi's, the famous restaurant in the theater district, before seeing a Broadway show. Felix Torrez was taken by the caricatures of stars that cover every inch of the walls.
TORREZ: After dinner, I'm going to go around and just take pictures with maybe every single one of these portraits. It's crazy being in here.
LUNDEN: And on Monday morning, they had their dress rehearsal on the stage of the same theater where "The Lion King" plays. Director Van Kaplan took them through their paces.
KAPLAN: Take your position.
LUNDEN: Felix Torrez had never even seen a Broadway show until a few evenings before. And there he was on Broadway.
TORREZ: It's not until you're on that stage that you really feel it - that you're looking out into the audience and that you're seeing the lights. It's an amazing feeling.
LUNDEN: And just a few hours later, he and his fellow nominees were performing the opening number in front of a sold-out house.
UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (As characters, singing) The heat is on in New York.
LUNDEN: The show was a little like "Glee" meets Miss America. Ben Platt, the Tony Award-winning actor from "Dear Evan Hansen," who hosted the evening, went off script after one of several medleys.
BEN PLATT: I'm just supposed to, like, go onto the next one. But I just feel the need to dwell. These kids are insane.
LUNDEN: Felix Torrez donned his Beast costume and sang his solo.
TORREZ: (As Beast, singing) No spirit could win me.
LUNDEN: Then the finalists were announced.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: From the Tommy Tune Awards in Houston, Texas, Jasmine Rogers.
LUNDEN: And so in front of friends, family and a lot of important Broadway producers and casting directors, Jasmine Rogers did her song all alone in a spotlight center stage.
ROGERS: (As character, singing) All I have to do is pretend I never knew him.
LUNDEN: She didn't win the best actress award. But at the afterparty, Rogers said...
ROGERS: All the people here - all the nominees - are absolutely amazing. And it could've been any of us. And it was just so great.
LUNDEN: Both Jasmine Rogers and Felix Torrez said they made new friends, polished their performing skills and came away with the confidence that they would definitely be back on Broadway. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.
UNIDENTIFIED ACTRESS: (As character, singing) There's a place where we don't have to feel alone.
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