Dallas — The Dallas Summer Musicals High Musical Theatre Awards program made history this summer. Every year the winners of Best Actor and Actress continue to the national awards (known as the Jimmy Awards) to compete in New York City with other top performers from around the country. For the first time in the 5 years since the DSM awards began, our talented performers took home some impressive honors.
John Frederickson, who won the DSM top award for his portrayal of Burt in Guyer’s Mary Poppins made it into the top four male finalists, which also landed him a $2,500 scholarship from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation. Waxahachie’s Kaiden Lynn Maines (Lady of the Lake, Spamalot) also snagged a $2,500 Special Recognition Scholarship presented by Tams-Witmark Music Library, Inc.
When I interviewed them in April for the Fifth Annual DSMHSMTA after they won the coveted awards, I was struck by their humility and genuine thankfulness. After sitting down with them upon their return from New York, I was happy to see that being on the national stage didn’t dampen those qualities.
TheaterJones: What was the preparation leading up to the Jimmy Awards?
Kaiden Lynn Maines: We had lots of rigorous vocal coaching from Tina Walsh for a few hours almost every day leading up to NYC, and we would just come in and work for about three to four hours doing our contrasting solos, getting our vocals ready. There were also a lot of inspirational talks during those sessions as we were preparing our material.
You mention contrasting solos. Tell me about that.
Jonn Frederickson: We had our roles that we were nominated for, Lady of the Lake from Spamalot and Burt from Mary Poppins, so we had our songs from our shows. We also chose songs that were opposite of the character we played. Kaiden’s character is very out there, so she came down more…
Maines: …more realistic, really. My two songs that I chose were “With You” from Ghost the Musical and “It Won’t be Long Now” from In the Heights.
Frederickson: And I had Burt, a very character type part, so I chose some honest pieces. My uptempo was “This is Not Over yet” from Parade, and then I chose “Run Away with me” from The Unauthorized Biography of Samantha Brown, which is the one I ended up singing in NYC. A complete contradiction in that it’s a very real character, so that’s where the contrast comes into play.
Did you have to do more songs from your nominated shows?
Maines: No, we got to choose one song to sing in NYC that highlighted our character and we kept the songs that we used in the medley, because those were the songs that best showcased us.
You absolutely loved your roles, but after having that contrast, which do you like now?
Frederickson: I guess the more realistic, because I felt like I was delving into a part of me that was very open, vulnerable, and honest with the crowd and people like that. You can appreciate it yourself, but an audience responds very well to someone who is open and truthful in what they’re saying or whenever they’re singing, especially. There’s something that just draws attention to it.
Maines: Well, the song I ended up singing at the NYC audition was “It Won’t Be Long Now,” and I love that song and the character, but there’s just something about Lady of the Lake. I find something new every time I perform it, and I never get tired of it. I could do this show 10 times again tomorrow. I miss performing Spamalot, but I think LotL was the first time I really connected and genuinely loved playing a character. Because with every character, there comes a time when you’re like, “Well, here’s the song I don’t like, or the scene that drives me crazy,” but with Lady, it was always, “I can’t wait to go on stage” and so I never got tired of that.
Did you have to do any preparation for the group medleys or did that all happen in NYC?
Maines: That was all up there, and it started the first night we got there actually. We got the music for the opening number and going to NYC, we didn’t know if we’d be in the medley group or the production group, so there was no way to really prepare for it.
TJ: Tell me about the two groups.
Maines: The medley group is just what it sounds like, it’s just a medley of songs like what we did at DSM. And the production group got to do a portion from the Broadway musical On Your Feet, and the dance captain from the musical came and taught us the choreography. John and I were both in the production group.
Frederickson: It was the most fun, and you can tell if you’ve watched the videos who had the most fun. We had a blast. A lot of things happened in that show that I was not expecting. I was expecting a concert-style show with lots of music, but I forgot that there was a whole backstory.
Maines: Plus, we got to have a talkback with the Broadway cast.
Did you get to see anything else while you were up there?
Frederickson: [laughs] We didn’t have time. We were always in rehearsal. We didn’t finish everything until the day before our audition for our finalist spots.
How long did you spend there?
Frederickson: Ten days. In the past, it’s been seven days start to finish, but this year they were planning on doing newer and bigger things, so they decided to start earlier.
Besides the production number, what did you work on up there?
Maines: We coached contrasting solos. My coach was Michael McElroy from Rent, The Who’s Tommy, and Big River. We worked throughout the week with the coaches, about 8-10 in a class with us. I loved it, because it’s almost more beneficial for me to listen and watch the coaching that other students receive, because I can take what he’s giving me for a future role, even if it doesn’t apply to me today.
Frederickson: My coach was Jose Llana who is in The King and I. He also worked with McElroy.
What was the biggest challenge in having to work that long up there?
Frederickson: Not blowing out your voice. That was the hardest part. And we’ve had training, but you don’t think about trying to save your voice until you’re close to losing it.
Maines: Because you’re just thrown into it.
Frederickson: Yeah, and both of us had a scare when we were close to losing our voices. So, there was a lot of sleep and preserving your voice, maybe spending a day or two not singing.
Maines: I think the hardest part for me was just realizing how unique the talent is. You can’t compare yourself to others, because I have a terrible habit of going to auditions and comparing myself to other people. Thinking, “I don’t sound like her or I don’t dance like her,” and that was the hardest thing the first couple of days. As theater kids, you get somewhere and you like to show off, but when you’re in a room of 62 talented people, it was very humbling to see all the talent that the country has to offer. The experience was amazing, and I had to keep reminding myself…
Frederickson: We made it here too!
Maines: Yes, everyone has their time and their place, and everyone has their journey, and you just have to go with it.
You do you.
Maines: Right! And that was kind of the recurring thing from our coaches and the cast of On Your Feet. They said, “You cannot try to do what other people are doing, you have to go do your thing, you have a plan for your life, you have a journey, you have a process, go on it, and just do you.” And I’ve been told that before but hearing it from someone who does 8 shows a week for a living, it just clicked.
Frederickson: It really solidified the entire message.
What kind of dancing did you do there?
Frederickson: In our initial audition on Monday--the second day we were there—we had a dance call that wasn’t too difficult.
Maines: But then they said, “Let’s go across the floor and break it down to basics.” And then I cried a little bit.
Frederickson: Oh, it wasn’t that bad.
Maines: It was awful.
But you both did some choreography for On Your Feet.
Maines: Yes, we did some of the choreography for the show, and since Gloria Estefan is from Cuba, it was very salsa-Caribbean, and I loved that.
Frederickson: Kaiden was killing it! She was getting the choreography from the get-go. She was in the group that did all the really tough choreography and had their own little break. On the first day for some reason, I had difficulty picking up the choreography, and I never had that much difficulty. That was the hardest we had to do the entire time, just the nature of the salsa. But it was exciting.
Maines: The dance captain from On Your Feet was awesome. Natalie Caruncho was so willing to teach and so helpful, and to come to this room of high-schoolers and be so eager to share was incredible.
John, when your name was called as a finalist the night of the awards, what was going through your head?
Frederickson: [silence with a contemplative look]
Maines: Well, I saw John when they were calling names for the guys, and they said “Dallas Summer Musicals.” I looked behind me, and he did his eyebrows like, “I’m sorry? What? What?” And I said, “That’s your name, John, go!” And the other guys were shaking him and pushing him up there.
Frederickson: I was really confused, actually. I didn’t expect it at all, even in the audition. I was hoping some other friends would get it. And also, they said that the people in my group were going be announced fourth, and I was announced second, so I thought they made a mistake in that instance, but I was overwhelmed and everyone was so supportive.
Kaiden, what was it like to receive your scholarship?
Maines: It was totally unexpected, but I’m very thankful. It’s really nice to be rewarded for your hard work.
What do you think about when you look back on your time in NYC?
Maines: We were talking about how we miss everyone so much. This 10-day experience was amazing but it was so bittersweet. You become so close with the other participants, and you’re just pulled away from them on the day you leave. The most valuable connections I made were with the people I was with, because we’re all gonna grow up in this world of musical theater together, whether we’re producers, directors, or actors. It’s always good to have those connections.
Frederickson: That was the roughest of the entire experience, but being with them made all the hard work worth it. I was happy to be back with my friends here when I returned home, but I know I might won’t see many of my friends from the awards again. Unless we all end up on Broadway together.
How is this process going to affect how you approach your art?
Frederickson: Obviously we didn’t do a full Broadway show, but with what we did do, we kind of have an idea of what Broadway producers and directors are expecting to have in someone who is auditioning for a show. I have a better idea of what I need to do to better myself for an upcoming show, such as breaking down my character, step by step, beat by beat, what is my goal here, what is the purpose.
Maines: I think what this has taught me is to not hold back. The first couple of days I got there I was in the world of immense talent, and it was very intimidating. And naturally when you’re intimated, you hold back. Once I started getting really comfortable and really confident in myself and my abilities is when I was able to open up.