NEW YORK (AP) — A teenager from California with a flair for singing funny songs and another from Florida who emerged triumphant after tackling two tough operatic tunes won top honors Monday at the National High School Musical Theater Awards.
Elizabeth Romero, 18, from Fullerton, Calif., was named best actress and Joshua Grosso, 18, from Tampa, Fla., got the best actor crown at the fourth annual competition, nicknamed the Jimmy Awards after theater owner James Nederlander.
Both also received $10,000 scholarship awards, capping a months-long winnowing process that began with 50,000 students from 1,000 schools. Sixty finalists were invited to New York to compete for the title and make their Broadway debuts on the Minskoff Theatre stage.
"I am at a loss for words. I can barely breathe," said Romero. "This is unbelievable: To perform on a Broadway stage in the heart of New York City. That's unheard of for a lot of kids our age."
A seven-judge panel that included Tony Award nominee Montego Glover chose the winners after watching them perform solos and medleys over Sunday and Monday. The night's hosts were Constantine Maroulis and Deborah Cox, stars of the upcoming revival of "Jekyll & Hyde."
During a whirlwind visit, the 60 teens who made it to New York — 30 girls and 30 boys — got six days of coaching by New York University faculty and Broadway stars like Telly Leung from "Godspell." They also took in a showing of "Nice Work If You Can Get It."
Grosso thanked his parents, siblings and teachers, but saved his most impassioned thanks for the 59 other competitors backstage. "We cried, we laughed," he said as they cheered him. "This is truly a blessing."
On Monday night, all 60 performed snippets of the songs that they had sung at regional competitions in six large medleys and then six — three men and three women — were plucked to sing solos.
Romero sang "A Little Brains, a Little Talent" from "Damn Yankees" and then "Disneyland" from the Marvin Hamlisch musical "Smile" for her solo. Grosso sang "All I Ask of You" from "The Phantom of the Opera" and then "Il Mondo Era Vuoto" from "The Light in the Piazza" as his solo.
The level of talent was high, with the students singing tunes in costume that ranged from "Aida" to "Bye Bye Birdie" to "Legally Blonde" to "Anything Goes." One even sang "Sal Tlay Ka Siti" from "The Book of Mormon" and a Sweeney Todd carried a mock straight razor.
There was also a fair amount of overlapping, with two Phantoms of the Opera, a duo of Bakers from "Into the Woods" and two Hortons from "Seussical." On the female side, there were two Aidas, three Belles from "Beauty and the Beast" and three Millies from "Thoroughly Modern Millie."
"OK, I played Aida on Broadway and I'm glad those two weren't at the audition," said Cox, watching the pair portraying the Nubian heroine exit the stage. At another point, Maroulis joked: "Some of the boys sing lower than me, which is weird."
The four runners-up, who each receive $2,500, were: Evan Greenberg from Atlanta; Drew Shafranek from Irving, Texas; Nicolette Burton from San Diego, Calif.; and Erica Durham from Pittsburgh.