Broadway has most likely not seen the last of Ekele Ukegbu. The student at Elmont Memorial Junior-Senior High School was named best actress Monday night at the 11th annual Jimmy Awards, a contest that's widely considered a crystal ball when it comes to predicting the next big Broadway star. (Last year's winners, Andrew Barth Feldman of Woodmere and Renée Rapp of Charlotte, North Carolina, went almost directly to leading roles in major musicals. He plays the title role in "Dear Evan Hansen" she portrays Queen Bee Regina George in "Mean Girls.")
Ukegbu wowed the judges at the Minskoff Theatre with an emotional performance of "I'm Here" from "The Color Purple," a song that pretty much locked up the 2016 best actress Tony Award for Cynthia Erivo. Earlier in the show, Ukegbu did a number from the musical "Aida," the song she performed to win the regional Roger Rees Awards in May.
She was up against 86 winners from regional high school theater competitions all over the country. Best actor honors in the contest, more formally known as the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, went to Ethan Kelso of Logan, Utah. Each received a $25,000 check to help further their studies.
With an audience of performers, producers and casting agents, every contestant got the audition of a lifetime. Host Ben Platt threw out a warning to the crowded theater: "They're coming for your jobs."