Following a busy year of master classes, workshops, rehearsals and performances, Playhouse Square hosted the 2023 Dazzle Awards presented by Pat and John Chapman on Saturday, May 20th in the KeyBank State Theatre.
This year’s Dazzle Awards Ceremony showcased 200 students from 31 schools across Northeast Ohio. After an intense week of rehearsals with Director and Choreographer Connor Gallagher and Associate Choreographer, Katie Johannigman, the students DAZZLED the stage in several performance numbers including a disco themed opener and the return of an original song “A Chance to Shine”, written by Music Director Joel Mercier. Additionally, the six schools nominated in the Best Musical Category performed a production number from their school’s show and our fourteen Best Actor and Best Actress Nominees performed in two medleys comprised of songs from their individual nominated roles.
The Dazzle Awards program is affiliated with the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (“The Jimmy Awards”) presented by The Broadway League Foundation. The Jimmy Awards once again invited the regional winners of the Best Actor and Actress categories to New York City, where 96 Nominees from 48 regional programs participated in an 8-day theater intensive, including coaching and rehearsals with Broadway professionals, in preparation for a one-night-only talent showcase on June 26, 2023 at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway.
Our 2023 Dazzle Awards Best Actor and Actress winners were Savon Harris, a rising Senior from Mayfield High School and Calista Zajac, a recent graduate of Magnificat High School.
Savon began performing in shows in middle school and truly found his passion for being on stage. He said he wanted to challenge himself to take on a bigger role for the first time this year, and he accomplished that goal beautifully in his performance as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in Mayfield High School’s production of Ragtime School Edition.
Calista is a 3-time Dazzle Awards Best Actress Nominee. She was previously nominated for her roles at Magnificat High School in 2021 as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl, and in 2022 as Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins. This year, Calista won the Best Actress Dazzle Award for her portrayal of Roxie Hart in Magnificat High School’s Chicago: Teen Edition. She has been performing since she was young and has aspired to go on to represent Playhouse Square at the Jimmy Awards since she was in middle school. This fall, Calista plans to attend the University of Southern California to pursue a degree in Musical Theater.
Savon, Calista, and their chaperone Emily arrived in NYC on Sunday and made their way to Lincoln Center to check in at The Julliard School where the nominees were staying for the week. After check-in, they quickly changed to meet up with another group of students who had also just arrived. The Jimmy Awards graciously invited everyone to experience the Museum of Broadway, an interactive museum that celebrates Broadway’s rich history. Following the tour, they went to the Broadway League’s offices and had a quick lunch in the room where the Tony Awards are voted on (talk about being in the “room where it happens”) before heading to the Shubert Theater to see a matinee of Some Like it Hot. After the show, the Broadway League arranged for the nominees in attendance to have a talkback with some of the cast of the show, including 2023 Tony Award Winner, J. Harrison Ghee. They ended the long and exciting day with a pizza party back at Julliard, where they got to meet the rest of the 96 nominees and chaperones.
The week started off early Monday morning with a welcome meeting where the nominees introduced themselves to each other and the production, creative, and management staff supporting them for the week. They were also sent an encouraging welcome message from Tony Award Nominee and Jimmy Awards alum, Eva Noblezada. In recognition and celebration of Juneteenth, the nominees participated in a special live taping of the Broadway League’s Black to Broadway podcast, hosted by Gennean Scott (the Broadway League’s Chief Diversity Officer) and Tré Dukes. After lunch, the nominees participated in a Dance Call with Jimmy Awards Choreographers, Kiesha Lalama, Stephanie Pope Lofgren, and Luis Salgado, as well as special guests from MJ The Musical, Rich and Tone Talauega. As if that wasn’t already a full day, they dove right into rehearsals where they started to learn the music for the opening & closing numbers of the ceremony.
The nominees have a demanding schedule for the week with days beginning at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 8:30 p.m. Each day they had the opportunity to work on the opening and closing numbers, rehearse their solo songs with their amazing Broadway coaches, and stage their individual performance group numbers. Throughout the week they were also visited by some incredible guests including Noah Gavin, two-time Tony Nominee Ben Platt, Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori, and Jimmys Alum Andrew Barth Feldman who all shared some incredible words of encouragement and left everyone feeling inspired!
Savon was cast in the “Tribute Group” which was a medley of songs that paid tribute to touring Broadway shows. He had the pleasure of working on his solo song with coach MaryAnn Hu whose credits include Queen Iduna in Disney’s Frozen, The Queen of Transylvania in My Fair Lady, Sunday In The Park With George, Lincoln Center’s The King and I (Lady Thiang u/s), South Pacific (Bloody Mary u/s) and Miss Saigon.
Calista was chosen to be part of the “Character Medleys” where she performed a cut from the song “Roxie” from her nominated role of Roxie Hart. She also had the opportunity to work with fellow Cleveland native Max Chernin on her solo audition song all week. Max currently stars in Parade on Broadway as Mr. Turner and is Ben Platt’s standby for the role of Leo Frank.
The nominees took a break from rehearsals Wednesday evening to enjoy a private dinner at the famous restaurant Sardi’s. After dinner, they walked into the heart of Times Square where they got to see their photos on a massive billboard! To end the night, they were blown away by a performance of MJ The Musical. The show was full of energy and nostalgia and had the audience out of their seats for several standing ovations. To top the night off, almost the entire cast and a few musicians held a private talkback for the nominees following the show. It was truly an incredible night of Broadway magic!
After a rigorous week, the students got to perform a sneak preview of the opening number for several press outlets in preparation for the show. Each nominee presented their group number, in addition to the solo that they had prepared with their coaches all week, for a panel of esteemed judges that included some top Broadway performers, directors, choreographers, and casting agents. The Jimmys also surprised everyone with a copy of the New York Times featuring all 96 nominee’s photos on the cover of the Arts and Leisure section.
On Monday morning, everyone took a bus downtown to the Minskoff Theater for the final day of rehearsals. Once they arrived, the excitement in the air was electric! They did one final group warm up, then they got into their mics and stepped onto the Broadway stage for the first time together. Savon and Calista stood out in a sea of incredibly talented students. They represented Northeast Ohio and Playhouse Square phenomenally both on and off the stage. They both truly immersed themselves in the process, walking away from this experience with a community of friends from around the country, memories and lessons that will last a lifetime, and sights set on one day returning to Broadway!