ORLANDO – This past Saturday, Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts held their 9th annual production of the Applause Awards where 350 musical theater students from 33 high schools and eight counties accepted awards and scholarships in Walt Disney Theater. At the conclusion of the showcase, two talented students, Samantha Nelson from Douglas Anderson School of the Arts and Jaxon Allison from Boone High School were named this year’s Female Lead Performer and Male Lead Performer, respectively. The runners-up were Lily Downs from Montverde Academy and Jackson Chase from Lake Nona High School.
“Producing the Applause Awards in the Walt Disney Theater is an annual highlight for our entire organization, made possible by our remarkable donors, sponsors, award-winning professionals and fantastic colleagues,” said Kathy Ramsberger, president & CEO at Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. “Congratulations to the incredibly talented students, dedicated teachers and supportive parents. The night genuinely reflects our mission––to be an inspirational place where people love to be.”
Both Samantha and Jaxon will go on to participate in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards®, known as The Jimmy Awards® in New York City on June 26, 2023. They will compete against 92 of the best musical theater students across the country and be dubbed as the next generation of Broadway stars.
The students will receive professional training opportunities, prizes and an opportunity to win the coveted awards of Best Performance by an Actor and Best Performance by an Actress in the country at the conclusion of the week-long competition.
Modeled after the Tony Awards®, this year’s Applause Awards at the Dr. Phillips Center was directed by Broadway veteran Ray Roderick for the second time and hosted by Tony Award-winning Broadway performer LaChanze. This high-energy event came together following a state-wide search by a panel of 12 casting agents, who visited every school who entered the national competition throughout the months-long adjudication process with more than 3,500 students.
“It was an honor to direct the Applause Awards for the second year in a row,” said Ray Roderick. “Students in Central Florida have so much passion for musical theater –– it is such a joy in my career to work with them on this incredible production.”
“Hosting the Applause Awards this year was a wonderful experience,” said LaChanze. “I had the best view in the house to witness the extraordinary talent from around Central Florida. These kids are absolute stars, and I am grateful to be a part of their journey as they continue their careers in the arts.”
Aside from recognizing the musical theater talent in the region and selecting the two overall winners for the Jimmy Awards, the Dr. Phillips Center also awarded more than $50,000 in scholarships to 27 deserving students. 26 students received $1,750 in scholarship and Solymar Baxter from Osceola County School for the Arts received the Spirit of the Applause Award and $3,000 in scholarship.
Additionally, Trinity Preparatory School’s cast from How to Eat Like a Child received the Community Engagement Award. With the opportunity to foster collaboration and practice student autonomy, the performers in Trinity Preparatory’s production implemented numerous aspects of their own show from costumes, props and staging. Demonstrating the art of putting on a show, these performers brought their production out to local community organizations, including the Disney Branch of the Boys and Girls Club to spread the art of theater and inspire young audiences.
The full list of 2023 Applause Awards participants is available online. The event is supported by AdventHealth, Chick-fil-A Greater Orlando, OUC, Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation, Florida Department of State Division of Arts & Culture, Isermann Family Foundation, Publix Supermarket Charities, Chesley G. Magruder Foundation, Florida Theatrical Association, Candy & Tony Alvarez and Ernest Hardy.