Finishing a year when the performing arts have gone largely virtual, Medina County teens Wilson Ha and Lauren Claxton are winners of the Playhouse Square Dazzle Awards, which aired live on Tuesday after being canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Ha, 18, from Medina, won the award for best actor and Claxton, also 18, from Wadsworth, took home the award for best actress. They each received a $ 1,500 college scholarship and will be participating in the Virtual Jimmy Awards / National High School Musical Theater Awards next month.

Ha will graduate from Hawken School on June 13, while Claxton will graduate from Wadsworth High School on May 30. He will major in biology and a minor in theater at John Carroll University. Claxton is headed to the University of Miami, where she will major in theater and plans to audition to become a minor in musical theater.

Students have adapted to the virtual Dazzles program this year with master classes, panel discussions with Broadway pros, audition workshops and rehearsals on Zoom. Fourteen finalists for Best Actors and Actresses competed and performed remotely, learning what goes into making a music video for the award medleys who featured their solos.

In a statement, Daniel Hahn, vice president of community engagement at Playhouse Square, praised the Dazzle applicants for their flexibility this year: “I applaud all the students for their willingness to try new things, their hard work. and their perseverance, and I believe special recognition is due to all of the music directors in the school who have found ways to maintain their programs despite the challenges of this past year. They are truly unstoppable.

Ha and Claxton were both delighted that the individual filming of their Dazzle medleys took place in Playhouse Square, in a recording booth on the mezzanine level of the State Theater. And on Thursday, they each went to the Idea Center in Playhouse Square after their big wins to film two songs, a dance, and interviews with Think Media to send to the Jimmys.

“It was really good to be back there yesterday; it was like a vacation, ”Claxton said on Friday of his stay at Playhouse Square.

For the Jimmy Awards, Ha and Claxton will participate in an intensive online course with coaching and rehearsals by professionals on Broadway from June 20 to July 1. The latest talent showcase will follow online on July 15, with more details to come.

Claxton won the Dazzles with the song “In My Dreams” by “Anastasia”, which she also submitted with the song “Here I Am” by “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” on the Jimmy Awards program. The recordings serve as a placement audition for Jimmy’s organizers to regroup the candidates in virtual numbers for the July broadcast.

Ha won the Dazzles for “On the Deck of a Spanish Sailboat, 1492” from “Songs for a New World”, which he did practically this year at Hawken School. Last week he learned two new songs to record and submit to the Jimmys.

“Learn to dance [for the Jimmys] was the real hurdle because it was pretty intense, ”Ha said of the upbeat dance submission“ You Can’t Stop the Beat ”.

All of the Dazzle finalists could work on their two songs and dance to submit to the Jimmys, in case they won in Cleveland.

“I wanted to make sure I felt ready,” Claxton said. “When it comes to acting and acting, I feel like I need some time to find the meaning of the song and get into my character.”

Ha, who grew up performing in musicals at the Weathervane Playhouse and at school, took a break from the theater as a junior to give speeches and debates.

“I really didn’t expect to be able to have this experience,” he said. “I think being involved in the Dazzle process has totally rekindled my passion for theater and reminded me a bit of how much joy it brings me and how great it is.” , did he declare.

Families of the teens watched the Dazzles live stream on Tuesday as they, as finalists, sat dressed in another room on Zoom on their computers. The winners were announced by Dazzle presenters Pat and John Chapman, and Ha and Claxton learned they won and gave acceptance speeches minutes before their families saw the results streaming.

Ha liked to walk into the other room to watch the reactions of her family members: “I kept my face straight.

Claxton, a longtime cheerleader and choir member, competed with the Dazzles for four years and had already competed for Best Actress in her sophomore year, when she played Ariel in “Little Mermaid. “. This year she had lead roles in Wadsworth High’s productions of “Spamalot” and “Into the Woods”.

For the Jimmys, the organization will send each of the 84 regional winners nationwide a care kit including a ring light and microphone to use for the virtual competition as well as a Jimmys t-shirt and water bottle. . The program, normally conducted live in New York, is presented by the Broadway League Foundation.

These local teens can’t wait to work out with some of the pros from Broadway.

“We work with the best of the best, and I am delighted,” said Claxton.

When Claxton won Best Actress on Tuesday night, she started crying live. Her school’s theater director, Pam Csaky, was so excited that she came to Claxton right away to congratulate her.

“I didn’t expect it at all,” Claxton said of her victory, which boosted her confidence after several years of competition. “Not all flowers bloom at the same time.”

Artistic writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]