Will Gonzalez missed graduating with his fellow students from the Mundelein High School Class of 2023 on Sunday afternoon. But it was for good reason: he was a finalist among thousands from across the state competing in the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards.
The payoff was huge: the following evening, May 22, he walked away with the grand prize: Best Performer in an Actor Role. Now the recent MHS graduate will travel to New York City to compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (known as the Jimmy Awards ®) in June.
“It was very exciting,” he said. “I knew I had a chance, but after hearing the other finalists, I knew any of the other guys could have won.”
Gonzalez, who finished in third place for the same award last year, is now among the top 48 of 140,000 student performers who entered regional competitions across the country. His all-expense-paid trip to New York includes a week-long theatre intensive with coaching sessions, training and rehearsals led by some of Broeadway’s most accomplished professionals. The Jimmy Awards ®, presented by The Broadway League Foundation, Inc. will culminate with a talent showcase performed live in front of an audience on a Broadway stage on Monday, June 26.
“This is a phenomenal opportunity for an immensely talented young man,” said Jonathan Meier, Director of Theatre at Mundelein High School.
Those who best know Gonzalez say that it’s more than talent alone that got him to this level. Since he was in middle school, those who heard him sing have raved about his gifted voice. Meier said he first heard Will sing in seventh grade and knew then that he was a special talent. The only question was whether he had the drive or discipline. Will answered that question consistently throughout his high school career.
“With Will, he’s got talent to spare and he’s willing to put in the work to make it happen,” said MHS Choir Director Cory Thompson. “For all of his talent, he’s the most humble, quiet kid you’ll meet. He’s never acted like he’s better than anyone else. That’s going to bode well for him.”
In fact, Gonzalez gave Both Thompson and Meier some credit when he listed them both on the IHSMTA application as an “educator or director who’s been important to your success.”
His entire high school career has been immersed in music and theatre. He played alto saxophone in the marching band, tenor saxophone in the jazz ensemble and bass clarinet in the concert band. He was also a member of various choral groups: Mundelein Sound, Sound FX, and Honors Master Singers. A four-year theatre member, Will sang and acted this year in “The Miracle Worker,” “Metamorphosis” and “In the Heights.” He also directed a one-act show and arranged the music for the group interpretation.
“All three of those areas contribute to his success as a musician, an actor and performer. They’ve all been part of his success,” Meier said. “He won best soloist at every competition he was at with the exception of the one time he was sick. He is clearly a special talent.”
It was his portrayal of the character Usnavi in “In the Heights'' this spring that led to his selection as a finalist in the Musical Theatre Award. Will’s father, Hector, who was born in Puerto Rico and spent summers in New York, has a background similar to Usnavi, Meier said. The younger Gonzalez has also been to Puerto Rico and said that connection helped him “internalize who I was representing.”
Gonzalez isn’t the first MHS student to be a finalist at the IHSMTA. But he is the first to win. But has he thought about winning in New York?
“I’m trying not to have expectations,” he said. “But winning would really open some doors.”
Thompson said just getting to New York means some doors have already opened in this budding young actor’s fledgling career.
“It’s a huge thing for Mundelein to have a student representing us on the national level,” Thompson said.