Versailles teens compete in prestigious Jimmy Awards on Broadway

Representing the Miami Valley High School Theatre Awards (MVHSTA), rising Versailles High School seniors Zach Ahrens and Isabel Rawlins made their debuts on a Broadway stage June 27 at New York’s Minskoff Theatre as participants in the 2022 Jimmy Awards.

Founded in 2009 and officially known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, the Jimmy Awards, named after the late Broadway producer James M. Nederlander, assembles the top students from over 40 participating programs across the country. The students compete for college scholarships and to be named the best in high school musical theatre.

Ahrens and Rawlins qualified for the Jimmys by way of Versailles’ production of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” which was showcased at the June 7 MVHSTA ceremony at the Schuster Center. They were the top scorers in their respective roles (Ahrens portrayed Lumiere; Rawlins portrayed Lefou) and also demonstrated their talents at a musical theatre workshop with nine other student performers. Rawlins in particular made Jimmys history as the first female to qualify as Lefou.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

The duo was among the 92 nominees who spent a week training in various workshops, master classes and rehearsals at the Juilliard School with numerous industry professionals such as film/TV/stage choreographer/educator Kiesha Lalama (who has choreographed for Dayton Contemporary Dance Company), Tony winner La Chanze (“The Color Purple”) and Tony nominee Howard McGillin (“Anything Goes,” “The Mystery of Edwin Drood”). The nominees also saw their photos on a Times Square billboard and were treated to tickets to the Tony-winning musical “Moulin Rouge!” where they received advice from former Jimmy nominee Adam J. Levy, a swing/understudy in the production.

The first in-person ceremony in three years took place at the longtime home of Disney’s “The Lion King.” Ahrens was featured in the group number “Shubert Salutes Sondheim,” while Rawlins appeared in the group number, “Walls Yet to Climb,” spotlighting female Broadway composers and lyricists. This year’s winners were Nicholas Barrón of San Antonio, Texas, and Kendell Becerra of San Diego, California.

ExploreMiami Valley High School Theatre Awards up next at Schuster Center

Visiting New York City for the first time, Ahrens appreciated the sense of community the Jimmys provided. Amazed and inspired, he now sees a future in musical theatre, a path he only marginally considered in the past.

“It was eye-opening in a really good way,” he said. “Going into it, I had no idea what the life of a Broadway (performer) would be. But they made (a point) to make the experience as Broadway as possible, showing us how performers go through a typical day. It was awesome to see that everyone else had the same love that I do. I thought I would do a minor in musical theatre, but after this experience it has become the dream. I feel so fortunate to have been on that Broadway stage.”



Rawlins, who recently appeared as Morticia Addams in the Muse Machine production of “The Addams Family,” echoed the overwhelming joy of the journey.

“As a young performer, New York is always the dream, and the fact that I performed on a Broadway stage at 17 years old is something I wouldn’t have thought of over 10 years ago when I was in ‘Honk!’ at my community theatre,” she said. “It was so surreal. It was absolutely beautiful. And the talent was amazing. Everyone was kind, open-hearted and unique.”

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Taking to heart many educational aspects from specific vocal and breathing exercises to Lalama’s “tough love” instruction and informative backstage guidance from stagehands, Rawlins says she’s eager to apply what she learned as she continues growing.

“Our small town has a very big passion for the arts, we know what it takes to put on a good show, but it was nice to go to the Jimmys and learn different types of music, different types of styles, and also learn the ways of the theater industry,” she said. “As a performer, to watch so many pieces fit and come together, it opened my eyes to what the potential really is. I always knew what theater could be for me but being immersed in that world taught me so much. I also learned about jobs outside of performing like producing, public relations and marketing.”

Friends since kindergarten, Ahrens and Rawlins first shared the stage together in their third-grade production of “Peter Pan.” Even though they’re still reeling from whirlwind memories of the Big Apple, there’s no time for rest. Ahrens will portray Lucas Beineke in Versailles Towne and Country Players’ production of “The Addams Family” slated July 13-16. Rawlins will portray Pearl Krabs in Vandalia Youth Theatre’s production of “The SpongeBob Musical” slated July 8-10.

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Next season, look for them to serve as MVHSTA ambassadors, encouraging students across the Miami Valley to participate in the arts.

“The MVHSTAs creates goals for students,” Ahrens said. “It’s awesome to see people shine and you get to make connections.”

“The MVSHTAs are inspiring, motivating and uplifts everyone and their individuality,” Rawlins added. “It builds the Dayton community while uplifting smaller communities.”

“It’s important to be advocates for the art form,” noted Gary Minyard, Vice President – Education and Engagement for Dayton Live. “You never know what kind of transformation can happen when you have student leaders advocating across the board by an organization like Dayton Live. There’s a lot to celebrate.”



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