Interview with 2017 Jimmy Award Winners: Dan LoBuono​ Interviews Sofia Deler and Tony Moreno

Written by Andrea Canny

July 12, 2017

What does a veteran Broadway performer do when they want to retire? Well, if you ask original cast member of Thoroughly Modern Millie, Dan LoBuono, he’d say, “Move back to Orlando and inspire young performers to go for their Broadway dream!”

Dan LoBuono, original cast member of Thoroughly Modern Millie 2017 Jimmy Award adjudicator.

Graduating from Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music with a degree in Musical Theatre, Dan went on to perform with Carol Channing in Hello, Dolly!, with Chita Rivera in Chicago, and many more Broadway shows and national tours.

Dan (front, first from left) in Hello, Dolly! with Carol Channing and presenting awards at the 2017 Jimmy Awards.

When he first moved back to Orlando, he was a Producer at Disney’s American Idol Experience and this year began his first year of adjudicating for the Applause Awards, the lead-in award to the Jimmy Awards in NYC.  So on the night of the Jimmy Awards, Dan was anxious to see Orlando’s winners, Tony Moreno and Sofia Deler succeed!  And they won!  We had Dan talk to Sofia and Tony about their Jimmy experiences and their next steps. Dan shared some Broadway wisdom with them too! Read on…

Jimmy winners Tony Moreno and Sofia Deler.

Meet Tony Moreno and Sofia Deler, 2017 winners of the Jimmy Awards! They are different ages and from different high schools, but know each other from doing shows together at Winter Park Playhouse for their Title 1 Outreach Program. They have mutual friends and have been in dance classes together.  This is the first time in the Jimmy’s history that both winners are from the same city! Below is their conversation with Dan.

How does it feel having won the Jimmy Award, like when your name was announced?

Tony says, “It was sort of a shock. It takes your breath away…amazing! I went last year and just to be a finalist this year was incredible and then to win? It meant a lot more to me.”

Sofia says, “When we both found out we were finalists, we were freaking out!” The male finalists were announced prior to the females, so when Tony’s name was announced, Sofia’s response was, “I was so happy for Tony!”  She had already felt anxious as she waited before finally being the last female finalist announced.  So, when Tony’s name was called as the male Jimmy Award winner, she thought to herself, “There’s NO way!! There’s no way I’m gonna win! It’s never happened before. They’re not going to give it to the same city.” Both agree, just being there was enough. Sofia says, “It was an awesome, awesome experience!”

Tony and Sofia’s reactions to hearing they won the Jimmy Awards.

What is your next step after winning?

Tony is going on to study Musical Theatre at University of Arizona, where the program is getting revamped. After visiting the campus, Tony said, “I fell in love with these professors, campus , and school! We mesh really well.  Tucson is one of the most beautiful cities ever and I don’t have to buy long underwear or a heavy coat!”

This summer, Sofia is attending the FSU Musical Theatre Camp then moving on to NC for the Broadway Dreams Foundation’s Summer Intensive before starting her Jr. Year of high school at Boone High School in Orlando, FL. She will be eligible for the Jimmy Awards next year if she wins the Applause Awards again.

Production number at the 2017 Jimmy’s.

If there were no limits, what is your biggest career goal?

Tony: Tony Award Winner

Sofia: “I want to be a  film actress…explore it all, TV, film, Broadway.” “Acting is my favorite. You could be a great singer but you still have to tell the story.”

What is your dream role/show?

Sofia: Maria in West Side Story, Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes.

Tony: Next to Normal, Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.

What directors or composers would you most like to work with?

Tony: Stephen Sondheim.

Sofia: For film, Damien Chazelle (LaLa Land) and for musical theatre, Jason Robert Brown.

Sofia and Tony performing in a number from the 2017 Applause Awards.

What was your preparation process like for the Jimmy’s?

Sofia felt extremely prepared because she said, “I chose songs that I had been working on all year, but I never thought I’d be performing them on a broadway stage in a couple of months. A lot of it was mental preparation for the week and being in that competitive atmosphere, but telling myself, ‘this is an amazing experience and I want to have fun.’, I wasn’t so anxious about having to be someone else. I was really into who I was and what I was bringing, and I felt confident. I think that had a lot to do with my success at the competition.”

Tony said, “On the flip side of that, though, I didn’t pick and learn my song until a week and a 1/2 before the Jimmy’s, because I didn’t have any good songs that were on the list (they give you to choose from). All of my audition songs were more obscure and not on the list. I picked a song and listened to it for days until it was ingrained into my brain. That was exciting, working on something new, just for the Jimmy’s.”

Tony performing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha at the 2017 Jimmy Awards.

In regards to song choice, both felt a strong connection to their song.

Sofia said, “I feel like the stars kind of aligned w/Tony & I, that our songs really connected to us.”

Dan: “Yes, connect as much with yourself as you can. If you find a song that doesn’t resonate with you, but you have to sing it, you have to find a way to make that work & seem like it does resonate.  When you walk on stage, you may be having your ‘OMG, OMG!’ moments about being on a Broadway stage, but it’s that groundedness that comes from staying honest with yourself that lets your talents show, rather than your nerves.”

Students coaching with Broadway’s Michael McElroy during Jimmy’s week.

What do you think it takes to be a successful Broadway performer?

Tony believes that persistence and taking care of yourself to maintain stamina is important. “I got a taste of it at the Jimmy’s because we were doing intense stuff every single day, so I had to keep my energy at a consistent level, but not too high, so I could maintain it through Monday.” Tony asked Dan how he maintained his stamina on an 8 show a week schedule. Dan said it’s a matter of upkeep.  It may seem cushy to ‘only’ work from 7:30pm to 11pm daily, but that’s not the case. You spend your day in the gym, doing yoga, meditation, at the chiropractor, in a massage, getting acupuncture, taking vocal lessons and coachings, and dance class. “For the sake of longevity you have to sustain the schedule grind with persistence and dedication to your craft.” Recently, Ben Platt  gracefully handled a disgruntled Twitter fan by explaining that his primary job was to perform his shows as well as he could 8 times a week and he would do whatever he could to make that happen in the preparation and upkeep.

Dan with Charlotte D’Amboise in Chicago.

(Dan offers some advice to Tony and Sofia.)

1. Show up ready for work, at least 15 minutes early, warmed up and ready to go. He says that some LA film actors would waltz into rehearsals 30 minutes late with Starbucks in their hand, and the NYC cast would have to “teach them how the workhorses and gypsies work in NYC!”

2. Don’t lose yourself to the business. Know and trust who you are.  That shines through your material and casting directors/directors want to know who you are. “You both have such magical energy, make that shine first.”

3. Jerry Mitchell (director of Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots, etc.) has a casting policy. He says he “…won’t cast someone unless I can visualize sitting next to them on a tour bus for 12 hours.” Dan says, Jerry “…likes the people who he feels are good humans, not only talented.”

4. Support your peers! Congratulate them. Be happy for their successes. There is enough work for us all and we will “all have our time to shine.”

Tony and Sofia with Ben Platt.

Who did you meet at the Jimmy’s?

Both: Ben Platt!

Tony: “Ben Platt was the coolest, most down to earth, most personable guy ever.” Tony had coaching with successful Broadway actor, Michael McElroy (Violet, Rent, The Wild Party and more), while Sofia was coached by Andrea Burns, the original ‘Woman 1′ from Songs for a New World. She says, “I think it was kind of interesting that I went with that role and Andrea was the one who originated it!”

“In regards to what you said about Ben Platt”, Dan said: “See how attractive that personality trait is? Other than his amazing talent, everyone wants to work with him because he’s ‘that cool guy’ to work with.”

Tony and Sofia with Dana Brazil, Director of Education at the Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts and
Director of the annual Applause Awards, the competition that leads to the Jimmy Awards.

What happened immediately after you won the Jimmy Awards?

Tony: 10 seconds after the show ended, we were thrown in to this massive press circle, and we had a bunch of cameras and microphones stuffed into our faces.”  He described it as a “…whirlwind.”  The judges introduced themselves to both Sofia and Tony. (Judges: Bernie Telsey, Rachel Hoffman, Tara Rubin, Montego Glover, Gary Kline)

Sofia said the interviews went so long that they didn’t even have time to see their parents before being bussed back to the dorms. Post Jimmy’s, back in Florida, Sofia’s theatre teacher, Nadine Love, and Sofia’s community of family and friends threw her a surprise party, which she says was “Awesome, really cool!”

With a smile in his voice, Tony happily said that the whirlwind of more interviews and the reality of it all “sinking in” made for a  “…crazy 2 weeks!”

Sofia with her Jimmy Award.

Do you have any questions for me?

Tony: “Why come back to Orlando?”

Dan: “I abused my body for so long…bunions from tapping on a metal stage in Millie & neck issues from Fosse choreography in Chicago.” “I thought, I’ve got to give this up for someone else to have this experience. I originally went to NYC and thought I’d stay 2 years and stayed 20 and had more of a career than I ever thought I would.” And Dan is very passionate that his adjudicating for the Applause Awards is a great outlet now to “give back” to people interested in pursuing a career in musical theatre.

Sofia: “If there’s 1 thing you could tell your high school self, what would it be?”

Dan: “Believe in yourself and walk in with confidence!” He said that in the beginning of his career, he was scared some people would “out dance” him, and some did, but he didn’t start dancing until college (CCM), yet he landed a tap show on Broadway (Thoroughly Modern Millie)! “I would tell myself, ‘I’m in the top 10% of talent’, so I wouldn’t psyche myself out and get in my own way.”  He feels that confidence walking in, a professional look, and talent are very important. “When casting a $15 million show, they better know you’re gonna go up there and be stellar! And I think that’s what got me Millie.  I wasn’t the best tapper, but they knew that I was gonna give them a spectacular performance and that’s what we all did. It’s not an arrogance, it’s a confidence. Here’s an example of your subtext when you go into an audition: ‘I think what I have to offer you is magical.  I’ve trained, I can read well, I can do comedy, I take risks in auditions’…and after a while they get to know you when you walk in…ie: ‘Hey, Dan! How’s it going!?’  You can be fun, kooky, have a good time. Be someone they want to work with. I know I got work because I always showed up, worked hard, was a good person, was nice and not a diva.”

Tony: “Oh, Wow!”

Tony and Sofia winning their scholarships as part of the Jimmy Awards.

Hungry for more theatre history? Check out our other stories below!

Andrea Canny is a professional entertainer (31 years), writer, director, producer, studio vocalist, vocal performance/cabaret coach, adjudicator as well as cabaret artist who is currently writing a book on integrity in the entertainment business.
Photos courtesy of Sofia Deler, Tony Moreno, and Dan LoBuono.