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ASU Gammage celebrates young Valley artists at high school musical theater awards

Performers to head to New York for 2024 Jimmy Awards


Woman stands on a stage flanked by two high school students.

From left: Best Lead Female Nora Palermo, Executive Director of ASU Gammage Colleen Jennings-Roggensack and Best Lead Male Max Perez. Photo by Tim Trumble

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June 10, 2024

High school graduates Max Perez and Nora Palermo were awarded Best Lead Male and Best Lead Female at the 2024 ASU Gammage High School Musical Theatre Awards (HSMTA) late last month. Their next stop? Broadway, at the Jimmy Awards in New York City.

HSMTA recognizes and celebrates Valley high school students and faculty that produce musical theater programs. It is a regional program of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, known as the Jimmy Awards. This year marked the 10th anniversary of ASU Gammage HSMTA, a milestone for the program. 

On Memorial Day weekend, 25 schools were brought to the ASU Gammage stage to perform one number from their school production. There were 14 award categories, including the highly coveted Best Lead Male and Best Lead Female, won by Perez and Palermo, respectively. Each student received a $1,000 cash award to further their education. 

15th Annual Jimmy Awards

Watch via livestream at www.jimmyawards.com on June 24.

For many participants, HSMTA is the last opportunity they have to perform with their high school drama members before heading off into the real world, making the competition a celebratory occasion for all. ASU Gammage Educational Program Manager Desiree Ong cherishes the opportunity to have students showcase their talent and the hard work they put in over the past year. 

“These awards are important because it validates students of all their hard work, so not just the winners,” Ong said.  

Despite the competitive nature of HSMTA, Ong said there is a shared sense of community and support across the 25 different schools who competed. 

“The schools are so supportive of each other. ... They were up on their feet, and they were clapping just as loud as everyone else," Ong said.

After the ASU Gammage HSMTA ceremony, Palermo and Perez will travel to New York for the Jimmy Awards. The Jimmy Awards is a national competition where nominees from over 50 regions all across the country make their Broadway debuts at the Minskoff Theatre. The winners of Best Performance by an Actress and Best Performance by an Actor are selected by a panel of judges and presented with a check for $25,000 to further their education. Additional scholarships are handed out throughout the night. 

Competing in the Jimmy Awards is an incredible opportunity to gain exposure and form connections within the Broadway industry. Nominees spend the week before the performance in coaching lessons, rehearsals and master classes with industry professionals. 

Best Lead Male winner Perez found his love for theater in his senior year at Centennial High School after participating in choir for years prior. While somewhat new to the theater world, Perez has enjoyed exploring his passion and being surrounded by those who share it. 

“For theater, I love the community. I love the people; they’re so supportive,” Perez said.  

Best Lead Female winner Palermo is a theater veteran, who has been participating in the musical theater world for the past 12 years. Playing the role of the witch in Phoenix Country Day School’s 2024 production of “Into the Woods,” Palermo hopes to continue to express her devotion to her craft at the Jimmy Awards and throughout the rest of her career. 

“Musical theater is so unique in its way of combining music and theater together,” Palermo said. “It's so special to me.” 

Joining the theater industry gave Perez the opportunity to leave behind any insecurities and embrace his love for the arts in a brand-new way. 

“I was really worried about what people thought about me or who I was as a person,” Perez said. "But in theater, you can be whoever you want to.” 

Heading into the 2024 Jimmy Awards, Palermo and Perez are not only looking forward to meeting people that will affect their theater career, but they are looking forward to representing Arizona and ASU Gammage on a Broadway stage. 

“It’s a big honor,” Palermo said. 

For more information about the Jimmy Awards and to watch the livestream on June 24, go to www.jimmyawards.com.

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