Showcasing Students’ Musical Theater Experience in N.Y.C.

July 9, 2024

Jennifer Duarte Castillo of Green Bay East High School and Noah Rass of Southern Door High School explored the world of Broadway in New York City for 10 days as part of The Jimmy Awards®/National High School Musical Theatre Awards®. As the 2024 nominees of the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Program, Jennifer and Noah represented the program at The 15th Annual Jimmy Awards® on June 24, 2024. The event was livestreamed and hosted by Josh Groban, singer, actor and recent star of Broadway’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. A total of 102 high school students from 51 regional high school musical theater programs across the country trained with Broadway professionals and shared a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I’ve made most of my friends through the Center Stage Program and it’s one of the best things to ever happen to me. The Showcase was truly the best night of my life. It was a celebration of theater talent, and we’re lucky to have a lot of that in the area.
Noah Rass - 2024 Center Stage Program representative

Noah and Jennifer shared the Center’s stage with students representing 31 high schools in Northeast Wisconsin at the Center Stage High School Musical Theater Showcase in May. Both went through a separate audition process as nominees for Outstanding Performance in a Lead Role. Jennifer was recognized for her role as Matilda Wormwood in Green Bay East High School’s production of Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical and Noah was recognized for his role as Bert in Southern Door High School’s production of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins. “I reminded myself to make the room mine, to show them why I was nominated,” Jennifer remarked.

Before heading onstage to hear the announcement of the two students who would represent the program at The Jimmy Awards®, Jennifer and her fellow nominees gathered in a prayer circle. “Hearing names called, I was holding on tight to the people on my left and right,” Jennifer shared. “No matter what happened, we were proud of and happy for each other.” After her name was called, Jennifer received an outpouring of support from family and friends. “I was proud of her,” Noah commented. “We’ve done a show together before, so I knew what she was made of. When my name was called, it was pure, utter shock. It felt like a culmination of the past few years.”

Growing up watching The Jimmy Awards®, I never would have imagined I would be one of the nominees performing on a Broadway stage like the one in the Minskoff Theatre. I love that I got to be a part of it all, and it’s an experience I will always remember.
Jennifer Duarte Castillo - 2024 Center Stage Program representative

Preparation for The Jimmy Awards® included blocking, singing, dancing and stage presence in 12-hour rehearsal days. “I was nervous at first and not sure I belonged, but then I settled in and made friends,” Jennifer commented. “I realized I did belong, and I was there for a reason.” Jennifer was especially excited to dive into the opening number. “I was looking forward to saying, ‘Welcome to The Jimmy Awards®.’ Rehearsing it was so thrilling and lived up to the hype!” Noah added, “It’s a lot of rehearsal time. They ask a lot of you, but it does bring out your best.”

Playing my part at The Jimmy Awards® while pursuing what I love was incredible. Its importance cannot be overstated in how it brings people of the arts together. My favorite part was the camaraderie. Everyone had nothing but the best to say and we cheered each other on.
Noah Rass - 2024 Center Stage Program representative

The Jimmy Awards® gives high school students a glimpse into careers in musical theater and Broadway. Noah loved learning more about the industry and his craft in the talk backs and training with Broadway professionals. “I wanted to make the most of the experience and take what they say to heart. We were so lucky to have that.” All 102 nominees were divided into eight coaching groups earlier in the week. This allowed for invaluable one-on-one training with top industry professionals, as well as learning opportunities hearing coaching for other nominees.

Nominees auditioned and were sorted into their performance groups. Jennifer had the opportunity to work with actor, producer and former Jimmy Awards® nominee, Adam J. Levy. “The initial audition process was nerve-wracking because I didn’t know anyone in my group, and I was worried about not being good enough and being judged,” Jennifer remarked. “Once I stepped into the room and saw the love, the nerves left, and I felt comfortable. Everyone was so supportive during a vulnerable time.” While performing his selected pieces, Noah connected to the music. “The best audition songs are the ones you can be you without acting,” he reflected. Watching other nominees perform was also a magical experience. “To see their artistry was amazing. Everyone there is special and hearing them sing changed my life. Hearing feedback from these professionals was eye-opening.”

Outside of their rehearsal space, Jennifer and Noah had the opportunity to embrace New York’s magic with their new friends. They went to Times Square and saw themselves in lights, enjoyed dinner at the famous Sardi’s restaurant, visited the Museum of Broadway, experienced MJ The Musical and attended the 77th Annual Tony Awards®.

Before going on stage at the Minskoff Theatre on June 24, the show’s host, Josh Groban visited the nominees. “He’s one of the kindest men I’ve ever met,” Noah shared. Even in the audience, there were new emerging artists and big names in the industry, including Alan Menken, who was one of the judges. “By showtime, we were so excited and the thrill of hearing an audience who’s excitedly clapping for you was amazing,” Jennifer commented.

My biggest takeaway from this incredible experience is there’s only one you, and no one can match that. In this industry, it’s important to stay true to yourself.
Jennifer Duarte Castillo - 2024 Center Stage Program

Both recent high school graduates, Jennifer and Noah will continue enhancing their musical theater talents in their undergraduate studies. Jennifer will attend UW Madison and Noah will attend UW Stevens Point in the fall.

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