Dr. Phillips Center Announces 9th Annual Applause Awards To Honor Excellence In High School Musicals

- Applause Awards adjudicated 52 productions in 33 schools from Jacksonville to Kissimmee; 350 of 3,500 students selected to participate for a chance to win regional scholarships and to represent Florida at the prestigious Jimmy Awards in NYC - - Jorge Rayo, Jr., winner of 2022 Spirit of Applause Award, honored with special tribute, after losing his battle with osteosarcoma -

2022 Applause Awards
Samantha Nelson and Jackson Chase selected to compete at The Jimmy Awards

ORLANDO – Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts today announced the winners of the 2023 Applause Awards, taking place on Saturday, June 3, at the arts center’s Walt Disney Theater. Now in its 9th year, the annual celebration is modeled after the Tony Awards and celebrates top talent in musical theater among our region’s high schools, including teachers and students. The 2023 Applause Awards will be directed by Broadway veteran Ray Roderick for the second time and hosted by Tony Award-winning Broadway performer LaChanze Sapp.

A panel of 12 casting agents, show directors, and industry professionals selected 350 students from 33 high schools and eight counties to participate. The program features live performances by the winners in the Outstanding Musical category and culminates in the announcement of the Outstanding Lead Male and Female Performers. The pair will advance to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as the Jimmy Awards, representing Central Florida and the Dr. Phillips Center. The 14th annual Jimmy Awards will take place on June 26 at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre. The ceremony highlights the best high school talent across the country and features almost 100 participants.

The opportunities student gain

The two advancing winners will have the opportunity of a lifetime to compete among the next generation of Broadway stars from all over the U.S. and to receive personal training from Broadway veterans in the Juilliard School’s campus. Jackson Chase, a senior at Lake Nona High School who participated at the Applause Awards last year for his performance as Nick Bottom from Something Rotten!, was selected to attend the 2022 Jimmy Awards. He brought home a Jimmy Award for Best Performance in an Ensemble and received $2,000 in scholarships. Chase is returning to the Applause Awards this year as a senior, and again this year as an Outstanding Lead Winner, competing for a chance to return to The Jimmy’s. Other college-bound seniors participating at the 2023 Applause Awards will also receive thousands of dollars. The total funding for scholarships has been increased to $50,000 (from $25,000 in 2022).

The Applause Awards also benefit students interested in working behind the scenes: Winners from the Outstanding Lighting Designers and Outstanding Stage Management categories are joining professionals in planning the production of the show, and select members of the winning Outstanding Orchestras will play in the theater’s pit, comprising an all-new ensemble for the occasion.

Honoring Jorge Rayo, Jr.

This year, the Applause Awards will honor Jorge Rayo, Jr. with a special tribute video. Jorge was the winner of the 2022 Spirit of Applause Award and was the only student to receive $2,500. He attended Tohopekaliga High School, in Kissimmee, where he played Emmett Forest in Legally Blonde. He also won in the Outstanding Actor category at the 2019 Applause Awards. Unfortunately, Jorge lost his battle with osteosarcoma and passed away last November. He always had the best time at the Applause Awards and had a passion for the arts, according to his theater teacher.

About the director and host

Ray Roderick returns to direct the show for his second consecutive year, alongside the talented education team at the art center. The Broadway veteran directed the London workshop of La Bamba! A New Dance Musical, and is best known for adapting the Broadway script for Chitty, Chitty, Bang, Bang for its first U.S. national tour. He also wrote and directed ‘S Wonderful! The New Gershwin Musical, which toured the U.S., and wrote the book and lyrics for Brooklyn Bridge, A New Musical. Roderick was the associate director of A Christmas Carol at Madison Square Garden for six years, and of Susan Stroman’s Broadway revival of The Music Man.

He will be joined by host LaChanze Sapp, a Florida-born actress whose Broadway career spans 31 seasons. Consistently bringing women of complexity and triumph into focus, LaChanze has won a Tony Award for her performance as Celie in The Color Purple, originated the role of Ti Moune in Once on This Island, and starred as Wiletta Mayer in Alice Childress’ Trouble In Mind. She serves as producer on the 20th-anniversary revival of Suzan-Lori Parks’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Topdog/Underdog, and on Tony Award-winning composer Jeanine Tesori’s Kimberly Akimbo. Sapp is the President of Black Theatre United, a community of creatives dedicated to awareness, accountability, and advocacy.

How to get involved

The full list of 2023 Applause Awards participants is available online. The event is supported by AdventHealth, Chick-fil-A Greater Orlando, OUC, State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts, Isermann Family Foundation and Publix Super Markets Charities.

Tickets are on sale, starting at $35, and can be ordered online.