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Inaugural Kelli O'Hara Awards to honor Oklahoma high school theater students

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Kelli O'Hara participates in the 73rd annual Tony Awards "Meet the Nominees" press day on May 1 at the Sofitel New York in new York. [Charles Sykes/Invision/AP]
Kelli O'Hara participates in the 73rd annual Tony Awards "Meet the Nominees" press day on May 1 at the Sofitel New York in new York. [Charles Sykes/Invision/AP]

Kelli O’Hara was 16 years old when she found her place.

“We moved to Deer Creek in Edmond when I was 16. It was a very hard transition because I had lived in Elk City almost my whole life before that, but I immediately found my place with Dixie Lee Jordan and her theater program,” O’Hara recalled via email. “I think theater does that; it gives people a place to belong. We built and painted our sets, worked on costumes, put together shows as a team. I learned so much from her and the whole process. It was my first taste of real acting study.”

Now a Tony Award winner starring in the acclaimed Broadway revival of “Kiss Me, Kate,” the Oklahoma native is hoping to inspire high school theater students in her home state with the launch of the Kelli O’Hara Awards.

OKC Broadway — a partnership between the Nederlander Organization and the Civic Center Foundation — last fall announced the establishment of the annual Kelli O’Hara Awards, adding Oklahoma City to a growing list of cities across the country participating in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, aka “The Jimmy Awards.”

“I honestly can’t believe it. It doesn’t seem real,” O’Hara told The Oklahoman. “It’s just one of the greatest honors I can imagine if it helps bring focus and excitement to the arts in the state of Oklahoma.”

Inaugural ceremony

The winners of the inaugural Kelli O'Hara Awards will be announced at a ceremony Sunday night at the Civic Center Music Hall. The finalists come from across the OKC metro area, and the awards ceremony, featuring performances by all the nominees, will be directed by Lyric Theatre’s Michael Baron.

Named for the late theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander, The Jimmy Awards were founded in 2009 to elevate the importance of theater arts education in schools and reward excellence in student performance. Regional winners in the best actor and best actress categories are invited to New York each June for an intensive professional training and to compete in a national awards program on a Broadway stage.

In Oklahoma City, awards also will be given for the best musical and best ensemble, and a Spotlight Award will be presented to an outstanding ensemble member from each school.

Broadway opportunity

OKC Broadway officially will be recognized as a Jimmy Awards provider in 2020, so this year will serve as a “dress rehearsal.” Beginning in 2020, OKC's best actor and actress will compete among the top stars in high school musical theater programs from across the country.

“You are in front of the professional theater community on a Broadway stage,” said Nick Scandalios, executive vice president of The Nederlander Organization. “Many of the Jimmy winners and runner-ups are actually working in the theater.”

That includes 2018 winner Andrew Barth Feldman, who is currently playing the title role in the Tony-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen” on Broadway.

Encouraging awards

O’Hara won’t be able to attend Sunday’s ceremony because she will be performing in "Kiss Me, Kate." But the seven-time Tony Award nominee said she hoped that the finalists for her namesake awards take the honor to heart.

“Where I always want to promote the work over the reward, I also know the work is encouraged by the reward so I think these awards are VERY important for the youth of Oklahoma. It will be something to bring them together as a community to celebrate each other and the work they all do,” she said.

GOING ON

The Kelli O’Hara Awards

When: 6 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.

Information: www.okcbroadway.com/jimmys.

NOMINEES:

Best actress: Sophia Davis, Maya Jacobs, Katelyn Loomis and Taylor Loomis, Norman High School; Kindle Ford and Jaiden Sango, Putnam City; Arden Hearne, Edmond Santa Fe; Prudence Lloyd, Bethany; Ashley Raydon, Southmoore; and Lexi Sendall, Choctaw.

Best actor: Logan Boyd, Classen School of Advanced Studies; Jason Burnam, Brenden Coplen and C.J. Craig, Choctaw; Diego Martinez, Tyler Swenson and Common Wallace, Putnam City; Grant McLain, Heritage Hall; Bryson Miller, Bethany; and Joel Stephens, Southmoore High School

Best musical performance: "Shrek," Choctaw High School; "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," Heritage Hall; and "Into the Woods," Norman.

Best performance by an ensemble: "The Music Man," Bethany High School; "Godspell," Deer Creek; and "Into the Woods," Norman.

Related Photos
<strong>Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo]</strong>

Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-eaeffffff4d11a0e77f4bcba13edea11.jpg" alt="Photo - Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo] " title=" Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo] "><figcaption> Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a31f228854cb06b33fb463a72971a7bf.jpg" alt="Photo - Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo] " title=" Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo] "><figcaption> Tony Award winner Kelli O'Hara sings during the 2015 Esther Women luncheon at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoman Archives photo] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-107caf97a9e9bd249bb34edc80d1ec05.jpg" alt="Photo - Kelli O'Hara plays the title role in the Broadway revival of "Kiss Me, Kate." [Photo by Joan Marcus] " title=" Kelli O'Hara plays the title role in the Broadway revival of "Kiss Me, Kate." [Photo by Joan Marcus] "><figcaption> Kelli O'Hara plays the title role in the Broadway revival of "Kiss Me, Kate." [Photo by Joan Marcus] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-80b1f18046bd119437279f481cb313c1.jpg" alt="Photo - Kelli O'Hara participates in the 73rd annual Tony Awards "Meet the Nominees" press day on May 1 at the Sofitel New York in new York. [Charles Sykes/Invision/AP] " title=" Kelli O'Hara participates in the 73rd annual Tony Awards "Meet the Nominees" press day on May 1 at the Sofitel New York in new York. [Charles Sykes/Invision/AP] "><figcaption> Kelli O'Hara participates in the 73rd annual Tony Awards "Meet the Nominees" press day on May 1 at the Sofitel New York in new York. [Charles Sykes/Invision/AP] </figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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