Junior competes in regional theater competition


Hadriel Dayanim

CESJDS faculty members came to the National Theater to support Shiri Cohen in the competition.

Penelope Terl, Reporter

As junior Shiri Cohen takes the stage at the National Theatre as part of the Brandon Victor Dixon awards, she begins singing “So Long Dearie” from “Hello, Dolly!,” as she had months prior on the CESJDS stage. However, this performance has a different significance: Cohen was nominated for “Best Actress” in the entire DMV area among eight other girls. After making it through a round of eliminations, she now got to perform the song “So Long Dearie” again on the stage of the National Theatre.

The Brandon Victor Dixon (BVD) Awards are a regional partner of the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (NHSMTA), also known as the Jimmy Awards, and they took place this past weekend. This competition is often regarded as “the high school Tony Awards” and features the best performers from across the nation. Cohen was nominated for Best Actress but did not win.  If she had moved on, Cohen would have competed in the nationwide Jimmy Awards with 46 girls from across the country.

“It was the first time that I did theater outside of school on such a big scale,” Cohen said. “It wasn’t just a production or community theater, [it] was the National Theatre. It was eye-opening. It was challenging. It was scary, but it was so thrilling.”

Judges who watched the Joan and Marvin Rosenberg High School Musical “Hello, Dolly!,” in which Cohen starred as Dolly Levi, invited Cohen to compete in the BVD Awards. This is the first year CESJDS entered the competition, and Cohen is the first JDS student ever nominated. Director of Arts Education Dr. David Solomon called this a “wonderful and challenging experience.” 

In preparation for the competition and the chance at the Jimmy Awards, Cohen wrote a resume, took headshots, wrote an essay about her experience, interviewed, filmed her singing and prepared a monologue. Additionally, she visited the National Theatre four times in two weeks and dedicated school time to prepare. 

“This process is going to benefit [Cohen] whether she decides to go into theater or music or not because she is learning about the interview process,” Solomon said. “Whenever you apply for a job or college, you have to prepare, and she now has a bulk of materials ready to go for whatever her next step is.”

Along with the challenges of performing onstage, Cohen had to navigate performing while observing Shabbat. Cohen went to a hotel near the National Theatre before Shabbat started, packed three kosher meals that didn’t require cooking, walked to the National Theatre from the hotel and had the microphone turned on before Shabbat started. 

The BVD Awards have helped Cohen’s musical theater extend outside of JDS, and she says it has pushed her to “really experience what musical theater is.”

“I can’t just rely on my voice or my acting skills,” Cohen said. “I have to learn choreography and film it and really study it so that I can show that I have all of these types of talents, and hopefully be able to mix them all into the beautiful nature that is musical theater.”

All schools participating in the BVD Awards send two students to participate in the opening ceremony. This year, freshmen Josh Dori and Bee Kotler performed a mashup of songs from musicals and choreography onstage. 

“[I]t was an amazing stage and an amazing theater and really allowed me to see myself in the future, doing something like this and performing in front of an audience that all wants to see what we have to offer,” Kotler said.

Although Cohen did not advance to the national competition, she says she “would not trade [the experience] for the world.” Cohen will be attending a vocal choral intensive program at Berklee College of Music in Boston this summer in order to keep progressing in her musical theater experience.

“[This experience] made me feel like an actress,” Cohen said. “…It made me feel like I could call myself a musical theater performing artist in the U.S..”