It was like an episode of "Glee" except that it was real. It also had a triumphant ending for one recent high school graduate from Orange County.
On Monday, the top musical-theater performers from high schools across the country convened in New York for the fifth annual National High School Musical Theater Awards, or the "Jimmys," named after producer James Nederlander.
Out of a pool of 62 finalists, two were named best actor and actress Monday evening at the Minskoff Theatre, home of Disney's "The Lion King."
Sarah Lynn Marion, a 17-year-old from Westminster, took home the actress prize for her performances of songs from "Hello Dolly!" and "110 in the Shade."
A recent graduate of the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, Marion said she was still in a bit of a daze as she spoke by phone from her home late Tuesday, after spending most of the day on an airplane.
"I was so shocked. I think I took the biggest inhale I've ever taken in my entire life. I almost passed out," she said.
Marion shared the award podium with Taylor Varga, a recent high school graduate from Newtown, Conn., who won the actor award. Both are receiving a $10,000 prize, plus a four-year scholarship to New York University, contingent on acceptance.
The 17-year-old stage actress was planning to attend Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa in the fall, but said winning the award is making her rethink her options. "I need to do some more research, but I think I'm dead set on applying to NYU in the fall," she said.
Marion grew up in Westminster with four siblings, and said she developed a love of musical theater at an early age thanks to her parents. "They actually met when they were performing in a production of 'The Wiz,'' she explained.
Her mother is a pastoral associate at St. Matthew's Church in Newport Beach, and her father runs a technology consulting business.
Marion has performed in student productions of "The Drowsy Chaperone," "Xanadu," "Damn Yankees" and "Hello Dolly." She said the role she would most want to play is Carlotta from "The Phantom of the Opera."
"She's just so evil and ferocious and wonderful and such a diva," she said. "For some reason, I love playing the villain. ... I tend to like playing the 'fun interest,' rather than the love interest. There are thousands of girls who are perfect for ingenue roles; I just don't think they're right for me."
Tim Nelson, who runs the musical theater program at the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts, said in a separate interview that Marion's win is part of a remarkable run for the school at the annual awards.
Last year, Elizabeth Romero of Fountain Valley took home the top actress award, and in 2010, Kyle Selig of Long Beach won the actor prize.
Despite her love of musicals, Marion said she has only seen two Broadway shows in her life -- "Phantom" and the current revival of "Annie." She added that she saw a touring production of "Memphis" at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
And in case anyone is wondering: Yes, she said, she watches "Glee," the popular Fox sitcom about stage-struck teenagers.
She credited the show for keeping her love of musicals alive. "If they can do that on TV, why can't I do it in real life?" she said.
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