“A show like no other” will be presented online this Tuesday, April 28, at 7:30 p.m. when the 18th annual Tommy Tune Awards ceremony is livestreamed on the Facebook page and YouTube channel of Theatre Under The Stars (TUTS).
“It’s going to be very different from anything done before,” says Israel Jimenez, the new out director of community engagement for TUTS, which sponsors the yearly competition among Houston-area high school musical-theater students.
“We knew we had to find a creative way to give these kids a very special evening during this difficult time,” says Jimenez.
But just among us squirrels, Jimenez is new to TUTS (he arrived here last October from Arizona), so he’s never experienced the Tony Awards-style celebration, which every April rocks a sold-out crowd at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Houston.
“It’s true,” he admits. “This would have been my first time, but all I’ve been hearing since I got to Houston is that it will be the most vibrant, energetic experience I’ve ever had. I have been amped up for this all year.”
Last month, Jimenez enjoyed the honor of announcing live, online, from his apartment in Montrose, which eight shows are in the running for Best Musical. Then, he directed anxious viewers to tuts.com for nominations in the other 14 categories.
Among the Best Musical nominees is The Color Purple at Kinder HSPVA, along with Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical at Friendswood High School, Sister Act at G.W. Carver Magnet, Crazy for You at Houston Christian, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at Klein Cain, Aida at Spring, and productions of The Drowsy Chaperone at Klein and Stratford.
Jimenez was the perfect choice to announce the Best Musical nominations, since musical theater was a transformative experience for him at La Quinta High School in southern California’s Coachella Valley.
“I was such a theater geek,” he admits. “I was super-involved in all the shows, all the musicals.”
As an immigrant from Mexico, he says, “Granted, I still had a thick accent, so I always got cast in quirky, comedic roles. But I was in everything. I was president of our Thespian troupe. I also played saxophone in the band and I was in the Winter Guard, spinning rifles and sabers and flags at indoor sporting events.”
Before announcing the Best Musical nominations in a stylish plaid tuxedo, Jimenez caught the attention of viewers on Zoom parties across the Houston area by improvising a tune on a recorder that was a gift from TUTS production manager Jeff Taylor.
At Jimenez’s side was his rescue dog, Macallan Jimenez.
“I adopted him when he was six months old. He was found in the alleys of Mesa, Arizona,” says Jimenez. “I chose him because he seemed so mellow, only to later realize that it was due to him being so sick with ticks and a parasite infestation. When the vet fixed him up, he showed his true colors! He’s the best, though, and now at 10 years old, he still has the energy of a puppy. He’s a lot of fun and the heir to the throne.”
In addition to announcing the winners of this year’s Tommy Tune Awards, Jimenez says, the online event will reveal which talented graduating seniors will receive TUTS college scholarships to pursue a career in the arts.
The awards show’s director, TUTS artistic associate Olson Scott Kelly, adds, “We’ll be featuring at-home performances from local high-school students, clips of the productions nominated for Best Musical, and some very special Broadway guests. There will be many surprises during the show.”
Among the Broadway professionals making an appearance during the awards will be Glee alum Alex Newell; Disney+ series High School Musical: The Musical: The Series stars Joe Serafini and Frankie Rodriguez; Tony-winning choreographer of Hamilton and In The Heights Andy Blankenbuehler; and Jeanine Tesori, the Tony-winning composer of Fun Home, which was based on a memoir by out cartoonist Alison Bechdel, author of the comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For.”
“The Tommy Tune Awards offer an opportunity for students and educators to share their creative accomplishments,” says Jimenez. “We also hope to instill in young people the value of engaging in the performing arts as a lifelong pursuit.”
The Tommy Tune Awards program celebrates the educational value, artistry, and community of high-school musical theater in the Houston area. After evaluating the 46 participating high schools’ productions during the 2019–20 school year, a team of 36 Houston-based theater enthusiasts nominated students in 15 award categories. For a complete list of the nominees for the 2020 Tommy Tune Awards, visit tuts.com/TTA.