Nancy Sasso Janis
The annual gala for the Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards was held this very rainy Monday evening at the Palace Theater in Waterbury. The rain let up a little as the teens from the nominated schools dressed in black tie attire made their way into the majestic theater. Many had traveled a long way by school bus to the city to attend and perform on the Palace stage.
The evening began promptly at 6:30 with a performance from the first of the schools nominated for outstanding production of the year. Amity Regional HS' reprised their amazing performance of "Son of Man" from 'Tarzan The Musical,' complete with Ryan Kennedy in the role of Young Tarzan sans flying.
The Master of Ceremonies of this year's gala was Matthew S. Morgan, a Connecticut native who is Broadway actor. He has appeared in 'The Lion King,' 'Hairspray' and 'RENT.' Throughout the evening, he kept things moving in a very personable manner and made no secret of the fact that he was truly in awe of some the of the student performers.
As the evening progressed, everyone in the audience was equally in awe of the talent that we have in Connecticut high schools. Mixed in with the announcements of the award winners were a musical number or two from the six shows nominated for Outstanding Production, as well as performances by the five young men nominated for Best Actor and the six young women in the Best Actress category.
The leading actor nominees included Hudson Lee as Jimmy Winter in Cheshire HS' 'Nice Work If You Can Get It,' Kyle Watkins as Stein in Newtown's 'City of Angels,' Joe Schigas as Captain Von Trapp in 'The Sound of Music' at St. Paul Catholic, Alex Mainolfi as Usnavi in Suffield Academy's 'In the Heights,' and Zac Gottschall as Horace Vandergelder in Trumbull HS' 'Hello Dolly.' Mr. Gottschall took home the Outstanding Leading Actor award and following in the footsteps of his older brother Max, will represent Connecticut at the national competition.
The leading actress nominees all performed well throughout the evening. Molly Silverman played Billie Bendix in Cheshire HS' 'Nice Work,' Emma Giorgio was a wonderful Maria in Immaculate HS' 'West Side Story,' Elizabeth Koennecke was nominated for playing Sandy in New Canaan HS' 'Grease,' Maggie Walsh played the role of 'Laura' in Valley Regional HS' production of the new musical 'Band Geeks,' Alexandra Cahr played Tracy in Westhill HS' 'Hairspray,' and Chiara Giampietro was Maria in St. Paul Catholic's 'Sound of Music.' Ms. Giampietro was released from the hospital on Monday morning after an attack of appendicitis, so her teacher put together a three minute video to showcase her performance. She went on to win and will also represent the state at the Minskoff Theatre in New York June 24 through 30.
Some of the award presenters were administrators from the participating schools. Larissa Mark returned to the Palace to present an award, Michael Hudak sang "Bring Him Home" from Les Miserables and I noticed even more maturity in the singing voice of Jillian Caillouette.
The orchestra under the direction of Emmett Drake, sat onstage and sounded amazing. The acceptance speeches by all of the students were touching and personal and the adults always thanked the students involved in their productions. John Carter (Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the Warner's 'Ragtime') was named best choreographer for his work at Cheshire HS in 'Nice Work If You Can Get It' and Brett Boles could not attend the gala to accept his award for Outstanding Music Direction for Newtown HS' 'City of Angels' because he has a new baby at home.
The top productions of the year included Amity's 'Tarzan,' Housatonic Valley Regional HS' 'The Boyfriend,' New Canaan's 'Grease,' Newtown HS' 'City of Angels,' St. Paul Catholic's 'The Sound of Music,' and Trumbull's 'Hello, Dolly.' In the final award of the evening, it was St. Paul Catholic, with whom I had the pleasure of sitting, that took home the award for Outstanding Production of the Year for 2015. They also won the award for lighting design, set design, direction, supporting actress for KodyLynn Perkins as Mother Abbess and featured performer for Caleigh Lozito as Elsa.
The noise level at this awards gala was only slightly lower that that of last week's Halos and there were more empty seats in the audience. The fact that some of the students have to travel great distances on buses to get to Waterbury, coupled with the ticket price, probably limits the number of supporters that are able to attend. I am always happy to be a part of this evening in order the see the wonderful bits of the various shows, most of which I have not been able to attend for a review. Every year I come away from this gala wishing that I could have seen many more of them.
Photos of the CHSMTA gala by Nancy Sasso Janis