Local Students, Luke and Lily Explore Musical Theater in N.Y.C.

July 6, 2023

At the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Showcase on Saturday, May 6, Luke Calaway of Ashwaubenon High School and Lily Davis of Hortonville High School were named the 2023 nominees of the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program, allowing them the opportunity to represent the program at The Jimmy Awards®/National High School Musical Theatre Awards® on June 26 in New York City. Out of more than 140,000 students from 48 regional high school musical theatre programs across the country, 96 high school students, including Luke and Lily, were nominated to perform at The Jimmy Awards®. Luke was recognized for his role as Nathan Detroit in Ashwaubenon High School’s production of Guys and Dolls and Lily was recognized for her role as Gomez Addams in Hortonville High School’s production of The Addams Family.

Preparing for the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Showcase
Sharing the Center’s stage with high school students from 31 high schools in Northeast Wisconsin, the Showcase was an exciting and eye-opening time for our two representatives. Luke commented, “At the Showcase and the weeks leading up to it, I met some of the coolest and most talented people that are involved in the arts across Wisconsin; overall, it was an enriching experience.”

Lily remarked how her preparation consisted of a lot of singing in her room and dancing whenever possible. “While I was performing in the Center Stage Showcase, all the expectations and pressure faded away to a moment I will never forget. I felt like this was what I was meant to be doing, and I couldn’t be happier to be doing so in front of such a large audience.” That happiness was amplified as Luke and Lily were shocked to be the selected nominees recognized for Outstanding Performance in a Lead Role.

I’ve known about the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program for quite a long time so processing the fact that I was selected to go to The Jimmy Awards® is truly a dream. I couldn’t believe it, honestly, I still can’t really believe it.
Luke Calaway - 2023 Center Stage Program representative

Luke’s family and friends were extremely excited for him and supportive of the process. The students at Ashwaubenon High School worked closely as a unit and grew close through their production of Guys and Dolls making Luke’s recognition personal to them.

Allowing herself to dream of performing at The Jimmy Awards® in New York City, Lily auditioned for the role of Gomez Addams in Hortonville High School’s production of The Addams Family. While Lily was anxious about what people would think of a female Gomez, she poured herself into the role. At the Center Stage Showcase, she felt the love and support from her family, the audience and fellow nominees.

From the rehearsals to the dressing rooms, to after the Showcase, everyone was so kind and compassionate, which was the perfect environment for all of us to thrive and build each other up.
Lily Davis - 2023 Center Stage Program Representative

Going into The Jimmy Awards®, Luke and Lily were both in agreement for what they were most excited about: meeting fellow high school students who share their passion for musical theater, as well as taking their place on a Broadway stage for the first time. Luke was particularly curious about the decisions that the composers and lyricists would make for the pieces they would perform. “I’m interested in the little things including the meaning behind each dynamic, the intention, or the reasoning for why a composer used dissonance. Being with people who see that in the work they create is what I’m most looking forward to at The Jimmy Awards®.”

For something as physically and mentally demanding as performing in something like The Jimmy Awards®, Luke and Lily spent time working on their performance, vocal and dance skills. They were excited to learn more about musical theater from their peers and Broadway professionals. “Regardless of what happens at The Jimmy Awards®, I want to be able to learn more about musical theater and become the best performer I can be,” Lily commented.

Experiencing New York and The Jimmy Awards®
Landing in New York, Luke and Lily took in the sights of the great city they would call home for the next week. They stayed at the Juilliard School, a very prestigious performing arts conservatory. Exploring the city, they stopped by the Minskoff Theatre, the current home of Disney’s The Lion King and where they would be performing for The Jimmy Awards®. Along the way, the two looked up and saw their names in lights in Times Square. Lily shared, “It was so cool, looking up and seeing ourselves in lights and even though we knew that we would be performing at the Minskoff Theatre and staying at Julliard, when we got to New York, it felt very real.” She laughingly remarked, “Seeing the stage, it was like, ‘Yep, that’s the stage we’ll be performing on; no pressure!”

For Lily, coming to New York to perform at the Minskoff Theatre was a full circle moment and a dream come true. She had recently gone to New York and saw Disney’s The Lion King at that theater. “I was thinking, ‘That could be the stage that I get to perform on!’ It was very cool.”

Never having been to New York, Luke loved experiencing everything for the first time. “Everything was new, and it was like things I had seen in TV shows or heard talked about. Suddenly, there’s Broadway and the shows that I listen to in my free time. Seeing where everything is and the shows that my peers are performing in was incredible.”

Starting their days with rehearsals at 8:30 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m., Luke and Lily along with the 94 other high school students worked on the show material including singing, dancing and stage presence. “It was a lot of hard work,” Luke said. “The dancing was rigorous, and they wanted it to be clean. But everyone was dedicated in learning their parts and working together.” Lily added, “Later in the day, you’d get tired, but I was already used to from performing in shows. I think having 95 people next to you really helped keep everyone going.” While rehearsals were tough, the nominees supported one another, giving words of encouragement to help everyone persevere and be the best that they can be.

The beauty of the arts is that they have the power to move us emotionally. Both Luke and Lily shared that they loved watching everyone perform their solos. “With 96 people performing, everyone is different in their approach,” Lily remarked. “You got to see how people work across the country, the different perspectives in how they live their lives, and how that affects what they do in musical theater.” Given the immense talent from each nominee, there was no clear indication of who would make it to the finals. “We felt so bad for the judges,” she said laughingly. “They had some tough decisions to make.” Lily spent time rehearsing her two musical theater solos leading up to The Jimmy Awards®. She rehearsed “Here I Am” from Broadway’s Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and “You Don’t Know This Man” from Parade. “It was crazy because my coach is performing in Parade right now, so no pressure, once again.”

Luke commented on how emotional it was watching the other students rehearse their solo pieces. “I was moved the most in the coaching sessions. I was with 9 other students, and we all performed two songs. We all took turns performing our songs. Each time someone sang, I got choked up. Then I would collect myself and the next person would sing, and I would get choked up again, so nine times, you’re almost bawling.” Luke also spent time working on his musical theater solos: “Empty Chairs At Empty Tables” from Les Misérables and “You’ve Got Trouble” from The Music Man.

During rehearsals, the 96 nominees were treated to a surprise visit from Broadway professional and Tony Award® winner and two-time host of The Jimmy Awards® Ben Platt and American actor and singer, Noah Galvin. “It was amazing; they’re inspirations to anyone who has done musical theater by the way that they’ve progressed. These people have made it; they’ve been where we are and we can see where they are currently. It’s inspiring,” Luke responded.

Carving out some time to relax, have fun and experience the magic of New York City, Luke and Lily joined their fellow performers and attended two Broadway shows: Some Like It Hot and MJ: The Musical. Luke said. “The Broadway shows were something that I enjoyed doing in our free time.” He added, “It’s definitely something I’ll remember for a very long time.” Lily excitedly shared, “The shows were amazing and so different. Some Like It Hot had big tap numbers and things you see in musical theater and MJ was like a concert. It was like, ‘That’s Michael Jackson right there. Wow’ It was so cool.” She also appreciated the talk back that they had with cast members, learning more about them, their careers and how they got there.

We were really like a family by the end of the week, all close and having strong friendships.
Luke Calaway - 2023 Center Stage Program representative

The big night, June 26 was full of anticipation awaiting The Jimmy Awards®. Arriving at the theater early, Luke and Lily were astonished by the number of people already tuned into the livestreams on YouTube and Facebook, let alone the approximately 1,700 people already in the audience at the Minskoff Theater. “It was so crazy the amount of people who tuned in and were supporting us!” Lily stated. “I don’t think any of us have ever experienced having that many people watching live online.”

Throughout the week, there was some anxiousness about the sheer number of people who would be watching The Jimmy Awards®. Luke expressed his initial concern of making mistakes while on stage, saying, “Once we started the show, all those thoughts of messing up left my head and I was just living a dream to be on Broadway. You don’t think twice about it; it just comes naturally. Even with how they had to cut the songs, the emotion that would come out…there’s a reason why everyone is here. They’re so talented, and to bring that out of someone is special. Throughout this whole experience, they helped us find our place among such talent, helping us to realize that we’re all unique in our own way.”

Someone can perform a song amazingly, but they can’t do it how you can. You are you. What you bring is uniquely you.
Luke Calaway - 2023 Center Stage Program representative

Sharing their final thoughts on the experience and the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program, Luke and Lily reiterated how valuable it is to them and other high school students to explore the world of musical theater and be granted opportunities to learn from arts professionals who have established careers. “You have the opportunity to participate in workshops or meet the casts of these shows; that has been incredibly valuable to me,” Luke reflected. I’ve been coming to the Fox Cities P.A.C. since I was 14, attending shows and meeting people who are living my dream. Being able to talk to them and ask ‘how they got there,’ is something that is incredibly valuable and would not have been possible without the Fox Cities P.A.C.”

I feel very accomplished and proud of what we’ve done. This experience really opened my eyes to all the opportunities there are not just in New York but in musical theater as a whole.
Lily Davis - 2023 Center Stage Program representative

Luke, adding onto Lily’s train of thought, saying, “I feel the same, feeling proud that we were able to put together a show in a short amount of time. It’s just amazing to meet all those people that are your age and dedicated to what you’re dedicated to. It was a wonderful experience.”

It was an honor even to be nominated for The Jimmy Awards®.
Lily Davis - 2023 Center Stage Program representative

Both recent high school graduates, Luke and Lily will keep improving their musical theater talent in their undergraduate studies. Luke will attend UW-Stevens Point pursuing a musical theater degree with an art minor. Lily will attend UW-Eau Claire, majoring in psychology and minoring in musical theater.

Written by Philomena Dorobek, Brand Storyteller
Fox Cities Performing Arts Center