2015 True West Award: Jimmy Bruenger

Jimmy Bruenger True West Award

Denver School of the Arts’ ‘Spring Awakening’ photo by Jennifer M. Koskinen.


​Today’s recipient: Jimmy Bruenger
Denver School of the Arts

Today’s award presenter: DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore

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Twelve days before then 16-year-old Jimmy Bruenger was to star as the heartthrob Link Larkin in Denver School of the Arts’ all-school production of Hairspray last year, his world fell out from under him. His father had died of a sudden heart attack, leaving Jimmy, his younger sister and newly widowed mother behind.

Bruenger decided the best way to honor his father was to sing through his grief. It was both a survival strategy and a personally felt social responsibility. For three years, Bruenger has made fundraising an essential element of every theatre production at Denver School of the Arts. With Bruenger leading the way, the Theatre Department there has raised more than $10,000 for local and national nonprofit charities.

At the curtain call following the final performance of Hairspray, Bruenger announced that his fellow thespians had raised $2,411 for the Denver Actors Fund. At the time, it was the largest single gift in the history of the new nonprofit, which offers financial and neighborly assistance to members of the local theatre community in medical need. Simultaneous collections raised an additional $2,490 for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. The year before, a “Picture with Belle” promotion during Beauty and the Beast raised $1,000 for Broadway Cares.

Video announcing Jimmy Bruenger as the winner of a 2015 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture.

This fall, DSA became one of the first high schools in the country to tackle Spring Awakening, a powerful rock musical that explores issues of suicide, abuse and the potentially fatal consequences when children grow up in a complete absence of information about human sexuality.

Jimmy Bruenger True West Award 220“We decided to fund-raise for Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention, an organization that has helped students in and outside of DSA tremendously,” said Bruenger (pronounced “Brew-in-jer.”) Citing critical assistance from fellow student Skylar Mabry, Bruenger said the cast raised $2,247 for the organization, which also assists teens in abusive situations. For the final few nights of the run, Bruenger again focused on fundraising for the Denver Actors Fund, and that effort raised yet another $1,700.

Bruenger credits DSA Director of Theatre Shawn Hann and Principal William Kohut for the success of the theatre department’s fundraising mission. “They are constantly showing us that art is a way of building community together,” he said.

Hann says Bruenger is the kind of kid “who gives and gives and gives. He can do anything he puts his mind to, and it is never about ego. It’s always been about the whole – and that is a beautiful thing to see.” But she also said it should not be lost that Bruenger is the real deal when he takes the stage. “He is a triple-threat performer who can sing and dance and act,” she said.

Jimmy Bruenger True West Award
Jimmy Bruenger and his ‘Hairspray’ castmates present Denver Actors Fund founder John Moore with $2,411. From left: Amelia Corrada, Madison Kitchen, Jeremy Willis, Claire Willcutt, John Moore and Jimmy Bruenger.

Bruenger has been a pinchable part of the local theatre community since he was 10 years old and nearly stole the show as the feisty little revolutionary Gavroche in the Arvada Center’s first-ever locally staged production of Les Misérables. (This reviewer wrote in The Denver Post: “It is an astonishing debut from letter-perfect Jimmy Bruenger, who shows uncanny timing and unnerving confidence as the tiny rebel who sings ‘Little People.’ “)

To now be ending his high-school career taking on a role as challenging as the predator Hanschen in an outstanding staging of Spring Awakening clearly shows the upward trajectory his performing has taken. That he responded to his father’s death by not dropping out and disrupting all the hard work his classmates had put into Hairspray surprised no one.

Neither that Bruenger, who was born in San José del Cabo, came to this country from Mexico and from his earliest consciousness understood his responsibility to give back. He is the son of a mother from Mexico and a father born in Colorado.

Jimmy Bruenger True West Award quote“I feel giving back is our way of saying thank you to the community for supporting us as young artists,” Bruenger said. “I feel that we are so lucky to really jump into our training as we do at DSA, and I know that spending five minutes raising money after a show can bring together an audience to the performers and help out organizations that we as young artists care about.”

Bruenger’s efforts have not gone unnoticed in the larger community. Last month, he won the Mayor’s 2015 Youth Arts & Culture Award. It is presented each year to a person under 18 who has made a difference in the community through the arts. A statement from Mayor Michael B. Hancock recognized Bruenger’s passion for raising funds. “Jimmy leads by example and strives for excellence in all he does,” it read.

As his final high-school semester approaches, Bruenger is chasing college scholarships so he can pursue his dream of earning a BFA in Musical Theatre, although that prospect grew more precarious after his father’s death. And yet, the focus for his remaining time in high school remains squarely on helping others, starting with choreographing the 8th grade production of The Little Mermaid Jr.

He is also developing an awareness campaign at DSA called ‘I for Art,’ which will advocate for the arts in education. “I’m starting within DSA to remind fellow students how lucky we are to get the chance to pursue our art, and also to showcase some unbelievable work that goes unnoticed by our community,” he said. “For example, we have a visual artist at DSA who helped design clothes for Miley Cyrus’ appearance on Saturday Night Live. I plan to make video segments focusing on different individuals at school to raise awareness of the importance of letting kids be exposed to the arts and showcase the amazing things that come out of young artists.”

As he sang seven years ago in Les Misérables: “This only goes to show what little people can do.”

John Moore was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since taken a groundbreaking position as the Denver Center’s Senior Arts Journalist. He is the founder of The Denver Actors Fund.


The True West Awards began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001. This year, DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore — along with additional voices from around the state — celebrate the entire local theatre community by recognizing 30 achievements from around the state over 30 days, without categories or nominations. Moore’s daily coverage of the DCPA and the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

Day 1: Rachel D. Graham
Day 2: BALLS! A Holiday Spectacular
Day 3: Creede Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season
Day 4: Laurence Curry
Day 5: Bernie Cardell
Day 6: Susan Lyles
Day 7: John Jurcheck​
Day 8: Christopher L. Sheley
Day 9: DCPA Education’s ‘Shakespeare in the Parking Lot
Day 10: Man and Monster: Todd Debreceni and TJ Hogle
Day 11: Shauna Johnson
Day 12: Geoffrey Kent and Benjamin Bonenfant
Day 13: Sesugh Solomon Tor-Agbidye
Day 14: Keith Ewer
Day 15: Allison Watrous
Day 16: Jonathan Farwell
Day 17: Bob, Wendy and Missy Moore
Day 18: Emma Messenger
Day 19: Shannon McKinney
Day 20: Mary Louise Lee and Yasmine Hunter
Day 21: Charlie Miller and Emily Tarquin
Day 22: Scott Beyette
Day 23: Augustus Truhn
Day 24: Jimmy Bruenger
Day 25: The Masters of Props: Rob Costigan, Peki Pineda and Becky Toma
Day 26: Jalyn Courtenay Webb
Day 27: Andre Rodriguez
Day 28: Rebecca Remaly
Day 29: Mark Collins
Day 30: Phamaly Theatre Company’s Cabaret
Bonus: Donald R. Seawell

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