'Raunchy' performance gets her the win

At some point, the 17-year-old competing in the national high school theater competition in New York had to let her training and lifetime love of performing take over. In the end, all her time at the Huntington Beach High School Academy for the Performing Arts didn't fail her, she brought home the top prize.

"When I performed my solo, I wasn't thinking about winning the competition or being better or worse than the other contestants," Sarah Marion said about her musical theater performance at the Minskoff Theatre in New York. "I walked onto the stage and I said to myself, 'This is just about me. This is about having fun. They can take it or leave it and at this point, I don't really care.'"

That's what the recent graduate told herself before performing the piece "Raunchy" from the musical "110 in the Shade" and winning best performance by an actress at the fifth annual National High School Musical Theater Awards.

Sarah, of Westminster, became the third student from the program on July 1 to win the Jimmy, named after the Broadway theater owner James M. Nederlander.

She was one of 62 students across the nation vying for the award which comes with $10,000 from the Nederlander Organization and access to a four-year scholarship to New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, should she be accepted.

"It's unreal right now. I'm still kind of in a daze," Sarah said. "It's been two days and it feels like five minutes. It's so hard to take in."

With her on her trip to New York was APA's musical director Tim Nelson. He sat in the audience during the performances and said Marion had them in the palm of her hand.

"You looked like a Broadway star. You commanded the stage like a Broadway performer," Nelson told Sarah as they sat in the Rose Center Theater in Westminster Wednesday afternoon.

"I remember when she had her first audition when she was in eighth grade," he said. "We've come a long way."

Huntington's APA has a history of sending students to fight for the Jimmy.

Kyle Selig clinched the first Jimmy for the APA in 2010 and Elizabeth Romero in 2012, Nelson said. There has always been a representative from the school since the competition first started in 2009, he added.

Nelson and APA artistic director Diane Makas credit the program's success to the fact they are one of the few high schools in the nation with a musical theater program.

The two mentioned LaGuardia High School of Music and Arts and Performing Arts in New York that doesn't have a musical theater program and said a representative from the school told them they were jealous of what APA had.

"I think we have a winning formula. One that works well with our community, administration and district office," Makas said.

"We expect a big level of professionalism out of them and they always rise to the occasion," Nelson said. "We don't treat them like they're kids at a school. We train them as if we're training them professionally for a show."

Sarah has been surrounded by music and theater since the day she was born. Her father was saxophonist in a rock band, her grandmother a singer and her parents met each other while performing "The Wiz." Her mother was Dorothy and her father was the Tin Man.

"Music and performing has always been a part of my life," she said. "It's never been like, 'Hey, let's try singing one day.' It's always been there. There's no beginning or ending point. It's always been and it always will be."

The first role she could remember playing was Jack's mother in "Jack and the Bean Stalk" in the first grade, Sarah said. But the play that made her realize that performing could be fun rather than a job was a production of "High School Musical" the Boys and Girls Club was putting on when she was in the seventh grade.

"Before I knew it, I did six shows there and I did two shows with Elizabeth Romero at the Boys and Girls Club and she won the Jimmy's last year," Sarah said. "I fell in love with performing and being on stage and singing for people."

After coming back home from New York with a glass trophy in one hand and a large cardboard check for $10,000 in the other, Sarah said she needs to figure out what she wants to do next.

"As of a week ago, I was planning on working as a teacher's assistant at the Academy of the Performing Arts and taking some classes at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa," she said. "But now that I have opportunity to receive a four-year scholarship to NYU Tisch School of the Arts, I might be applying there."

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