A Buffalo Grove teen who counts "Les Miserables" at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire and "Sweeney Todd" at Drury Lane Theatre in Oak Brook among his professional credits, earned top honors Monday at the sixth annual National High School Musical Theater Awards in New York City.
Jonah Rawitz, 16, received the best-actor Jimmy Award, named for theater impresario James Nederlander. Jai'Len Josey, of Atlanta. Georgia, was named best actress.
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"It's an incredible honor," said Rawitz, a junior at Adlai E. Stevenson High School, who received a $10,000 scholarship in addition to the award.
The awards were announced during Monday's showcase, which concluded a five-day, "theatrical boot camp" involving 28 boys and 28 girls selected from 60,000 students who auditioned nationwide.
"It's been amazing. I've learned so much. I made a lot of great friends," Rawitz said. "Everyone there was so talented and so gifted. It was a privilege to get to learn from everyone."
Rawitz performed a number from "In The Heights" as part of an ensemble. For his solo, he sang "If I Didn't Believe in You" from the chamber musical "The Last Five Years." Jonah's mother, Lauren Rawitz, directed a revival of that show last month at the Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights. The teen said her work on the musical didn't influence his choice.
"I know the song," he said. "It has a beautiful message. The lyrics are beautifully written."
When it comes to performing, however, he heeds his mom's advice to be honest, feel the emotion and believe everything he's singing.
Rawitz, who writes and performs original songs, hopes to pursue a career in theater and as a singer/songwriter.
"It would be great to be able to balance the two," he says.
With no professional roles lined up, he hopes in the immediate future to concentrate on high school productions.
"I'm excited for those opportunities at my high school," he says. "I would love to do things outside school, too."
More than just about anything, Rawitz says he's grateful for the opportunity to participate in the competition.
"I can't emphasize enough how humbled I am to be within this crowd of such amazing actors and individuals," he said. "I've made so many amazing friends. I feel like I'm part of a family."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.