Comunale and Weckesser joined 94 other student nominees from across the country for a week-long intense training program that culminated with performing at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre, the home of Disney’s “The Lion King.”
During the 2022-23 MVHSTA season, they were top scorers in their representative roles. Comunale portrayed Lt. Frank Cioffi in “Curtains” and Weckesser portrayed Gertrude McFuzz in “Seussical the Musical.” They also demonstrated their talents at a musical theatre workshop among their fellow high-scorers and performed solos at the MVHSTA Showcase held June 6 at the Schuster Center.
“It’s important that we provide these experiences for young people with a new and reenergized perspective,” said Gary Minyard, Dayton Live Vice President – Education and Engagement. “There’s never just one way to do something but for them to be able to see that in real time and in a way that we consider the top of the musical theatre game – Broadway – and to be able to bring that back to Dayton and their schools and also become role models is a pretty big deal.”
MVHSTA Coordinator Taylor Benjamin guided the duo while in New York City. She was pleased to see their artistic growth develop.
“I’m so proud of them,” said Benjamin. “Their growth was incredible. They represented Dayton and MVHSTA beautifully.”
Comunale, who will continue his studies as an acting major at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, and Weckesser, a rising senior, recently reflected on MVHSTA and their Broadway debuts.
Q: How vital is MVHSTA to Dayton?
A: Weckesser: We are so fortunate to have MVHSTA in our community. It celebrates and encourages all young artists no matter where they are in their journey. Even if you don’t pursue musical theatre in the future, the arts can still be a big part of your life and it’s important to build supporters of the arts.
A: Comunale: I’ve grown so much as a person and as an actor thanks to MVHSTA. MVHSTA allows students to look back and celebrate growth. It impacts everybody in a different way but it’s always a positive thing.
Q: What did the Jimmys teach you about the craft of musical theatre and yourself as an artist?
Weckesser: Making and building connections was so important. When you can develop relationships with people you’re going to be on stage with, it really makes all the difference. We were all able to make our Broadway debuts at the Minskoff and I think the audience was able to feel the love. We treated each other with kindness. We were excited for each other. The Jimmys are a competition, but honestly, we all felt we already won. I also learned a lot about how to bring more of myself to my performances. The Jimmys allowed (time) for self-discovery. Making deeper connections to my performances is something I’m definitely going to carry into my senior year.
Q: What was your favorite aspect of the Jimmys?
Comunale: The Jimmys performance was wonderful but seeing how everyone reacted to being on the Minskoff stage for the first time was incredible. It was nice to see other people’s dreams realized.
Weckesser: I loved being in Times Square seeing all of our head shots on the billboard. We were all so happy. It was such a fulfilling moment for all of us. And as someone who wants to pursue musical theatre as a career, I loved being in a professional environment and being pushed in rehearsals. I loved the adrenaline it brought. I really felt content with that experience, which solidified that this is something I want to do and being totally happy with as an adult. The Jimmys experience was very eye-opening.
Q: What was the most challenging aspect of the Jimmys?
Weckesser: When hearing everyone’s solos during our coaching groups, I had to be able to combat a little bit of imposter syndrome. Thanks to CJ and MVHSTA, I feel like I’ve grown a lot in my self-confidence and knowing who I am as an artist. I had to remind myself I bring a different color palette to the table, a different toolbox to work with. It was a challenge that helped me broaden my horizons.
Comunale: It was intimidating to think you’re starting lower than others, especially when you switch songs like I did, but it’s a full circle moment because you realize everyone is there for a reason. And when you come in with a new song, you can do just as much with it as someone who has had a song for six months due to working with talented (coaches) in such an intimate space.
Q: What is your biggest takeaway from the Jimmys?
Weckesser: The sense of community at the Jimmys was so beautiful, supportive and uplifting, which really made a difference in our work ethic and in our performances. I want to carry that energy into rehearsals in my senior year through MVSHTA, CJ and Muse Machine.”
Comunale: “I’m still figuring out where I want to be and what exactly I want to do, but I know I want to be in the acting field. The Jimmys (reminded me) that performance – singing, acting and dancing – is a muscle. And I need to flex those muscles more. It blows your mind to see how far you can come when you’re pushed in a week-long intensive environment and you have to flex all of those muscles.