At heart, Broadway superstar Brandon Victor Dixon will always be a Gaithersburg, Maryland, boy. Even though he hasn’t lived in the region since high school, the Hamilton and Color Purple alum still returns to the state when it’s time to renew his driver’s license, visit with family, and reminisce about the place that launched his career in the arts. Now the Tony, Emmy, and Grammy nominee, who can be seen this Friday on PBS’s Stars on Stage from Westport County Playhouse, has another reason to return home: The Brandon Victor Dixon Awards.
Dixon was enthusiastic when The National Theatre of Washington, DC, asked him to lend his name to the first DC-based branch of the Jimmy Awards (the affectionate nickname for the National High School Musical Theatre Awards recognizing excellence in high school theater programs). “My connection to the DC area and its role in my development as an artist is very strong,” Dixon said in a recent phone interview. “So when they approached me with the idea of expanding the Jimmy Awards, I was very interested in helping to create meaningful educational opportunities for young people in the DC area.”
High school students around the country become eligible for the Jimmy Awards by competing in regional programs like the new Brandon Victor Dixon Award. The winners of these regional programs then advance to the national competition in New York City. Surprisingly, Washington, DC, has never had a local program to feed into this prestigious and formative event for high school thespians. That will change this spring when up to 25 high schools within a 25-mile radius of Washington, DC, will be able to compete for recognition.
In addition to lending his name to the prize, Dixon will help run the DC program, host the awards ceremony at the National Theatre, and, he says, “I’ll be there for the winners when they come to NYC for the national competition.”
After growing up in Gaithersburg, Maryland, Dixon attended Washington, DC’s St. Alban’s College Prep School, where he credits theater teachers Frankie Tacker and Richard Dorton for recognizing his talents and steering him toward multiple opportunities in arts education. “They had a very big impact on how I saw myself and my ability in the arts,” Dixon says of his teachers. With their assistance, Dixon became a U.S. Presidential Scholar semifinalist and won a scholarship to attend a summer program at Oxford University’s British Academy of Dramatic Acting, where he was the youngest student in the program.
Dixon knew he had an affinity for the arts by age three. In eighth grade, he was performing Shakespeare at the Folger Theatre. In high school, he trained in voice at DC’s Levine School of Music and attended summer programs at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts. “These experiences connected me to a network of young, aspiring artists, many of whom I’m still in contact with today,” he observes.
He hopes the Brandon Victor Dixon Awards will bring similar early enrichment opportunities to young people who want a career in the arts. “It’s important to instill the work ethic and community building that come from studying, educating, and training oneself,” he says. “To have such eye-opening experiences at a young age in terms of what the arts can do for your life can make all the difference.”
Dixon got his “big break” just three years after moving to New York City to attend Columbia University. In his senior year of college, he was cast as Adult Simba in the national tour of The Lion King (2003). From there, he’s been in a string of high-profile productions, earning Tony Award nominations for his roles in The Color Purple (2005) and Shuffle Along (2016). In addition to his performing accolades, Dixon won a Tony Award for producing the 2014 Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch.
Taking Broadway to television, Dixon received an Emmy nomination for playing Judas in the NBC live concert production of Jesus Christ Superstar in 2018. “TV musicals are difficult, ambitious undertakings,” Dixon says of the project, which became the most-watched TV musical of recent times. “It’s difficult to make them really succeed, so I’m glad a lot of specific elements came together in the right way.” Dixon also reprised his portrayal of Tom Collins in Rent when that show was performed live on Fox.
Television viewers will have the chance to see Dixon again this Friday, January 21, at 9:00 PM in a concert special filmed for PBS at the Westport Country Playhouse. In putting together material for the show, Dixon chose songs “from my life and my career that speak to me in a certain way.” Dixon notes that he came of age on Broadway at a time when a variety of music genres were making their way onto Broadway stages. So, the concert will include numbers by traditional theater composers like Rogers and Hammerstein and Stephen Sondheim as well as pop and soul numbers by Marvin Gaye, Donny Hathaway, and Stevie Wonder. “Soul music to me requires a unique connection to emotional storytelling, which is what theater is about, so it’s not a coincidence that those are the kind of artists that I’m drawn to,” Dixon says.
What does Dixon consider the most beneficial thing about a career in the arts? “Pursuing a career in the arts has expanded my world and my ability to connect with other people and with parts of myself. As a career, it’s a real personal growth mechanism and I appreciate that.”
Stars on Stage from the Westport Country Playhouse featuring Brandon Victor Dixon premieres on Friday, January 21, 2022, at 9:00 PM EST on PBS, PBS.org, and the PBS video app available on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Android TV, Samsung Smart TV, Chromecast, and VIZIO.
More information about the National Theatre’s Brandon Victor Dixon Awards can be found here.