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Local high schools recognized for musical theater productions

May 17, 2018
By CJ HADDAD ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A night full of celebration, classic music and some serious dance moves took place at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall at Florida SouthWestern State College in Fort Myers Monday night.

The 10th annual 2018 High School Musical Awards were held as Lee County's most talented teen thespians took center stage to be recognized for all of their hard work and dedication to their schools' musical productions.

Scott Saxon, general manager of the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall, founded this event in 2008 to give credit to the students who make these shows come to life.

This ceremony was a night for not just the actors, but stage crew, set makers, costuming groups and so many other behind-the-scenes helpers to step into the spotlight for a night.

"They put a lot of work into it," Saxon said. "They rehearse every day. They practice every day. They need to be celebrated, too. It's our local version of Broadway's Tony Awards."

Throughout the night, all seven participating high schools put together either a shortened medley or single selection from their musical to perform, with individual awards mixed in between.

Cape Coral High School did a selection from its show "All Night Strut!"

Cypress Lake High School followed with the comedic "Spamalot."

Fort Myers High School performed classic Elvis songs from "All Shook Up."

Ida Baker High School did the iconic opening from "Footloose."

Island Coast High School brought the "soul" with "Sister Act."

Lehigh Senior High School Center for the Arts got feet tapping with a medley from "Hairspray."

And, North Fort Myers Center for Arts and Media got everyone singing with "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins."

Award categories honored not only the stars of each show, but shined a light on those who aren't always glorified in their role.

Categories included; outstanding ensemble group (Ida Baker), outstanding chorus (North Fort Myers), outstanding graphic achievement (Cape Coral), outstanding execution of choreography (North Fort Myers), outstanding orchestra (North Fort Myers), outstanding stage management(Guadalupe Mendoza - Lehigh), outstanding technical achievement (Lehigh), featured ensemble member (Haley Dutcher - Island Coast) and performance in a featured role (Yuliana Garcia - North Fort Myers).

Saxon said he started this awards show to recognize the arts in the community.

"These students really needed a celebration, too," he said. "There are sports awards, academic awards - which are all great, but these students really didn't have anything like that and I think it's important that we celebrate them and give them the opportunity to showcase what they've been doing. The least we can do is give them one night they can really celebrate."

What Saxon finds most rewarding in putting on this event is the camaraderie he sees between the schools.

"It's the way they cheer for each other. It's not just their school, it's about all the schools," Saxon said.

"They see those performances and you hear the other students celebrating everyone. It's not a we win-you lose situation, everybody gets to do their thing. Just to hear the reactions every time somebody is announced, it makes it all worth it."

Saxon also organized workshops the morning of the awards show to give each school an opportunity to delve deeper into the performance realm.

"We want to teach them some things about the business, all of the aspects that they don't necessarily get to see," added Saxon.

Workshops consisted of stage management, stage combat, acting for film, dance and costume design to name a few.

Theater experts were brought in to conduct these workshops for the students who actually got to meet each other throughout the morning by attending them as a mixed group.

"We owe a huge credit to these schools' directors who get together and jumble the students in these groups to go through the workshops together so they get a chance to meet and see other students and spend time together," Saxon said.

You could really feel the love in the Barbara B. Mann Hall throughout the night as each school cheered raucously for every and anyone recognized, regardless of school affiliation.

As master of ceremonies, NBC2's Chad Oliver read each winner's name and a loud burst of jubilant sound would erupt from the winning party's school section as the proud winner raced to the stage, often showing off a slick dance move upon receiving their award.

Individual winners and runner-ups would be gifted two tickets to a future Broadway show at FGCU in the future, along with $1,500 in scholarships to the best supporting actress and actor, along with outstanding actress and actor in a lead role.

Outstanding actress in a supporting role went to Isabella Cintron from Cypress Lake. Her counterpart, Cameron Rogers took home outstanding actor in a supporting role.

Outstanding actress in a leading role went to Ryleigh Plank, a junior from Cypress Lake, for her portrayal of "The Lady of the Lake" in "Spamalot."

Plank said a mock-audition led to her to take on her first musical.

"Last year in my musical theatre class, I did my first monologue, and I realized then how much I loved acting. I just went for it, this is my first musical that I've done, at it was amazing," Plank said.

"It was so fun!" said Plank of the High School Musical Awards. "It was so welcoming, and everyone here supports each other so much. In competition you don't always get that, but everyone here loves each other and that's such a great thing."

The bonds that Plank built over her time with her cast-mates is what she'll really keep near to her heart when all is said and done.

"I gained so many friends from this show," she said. "I got to be around so many different kinds of people, not just vocal majors like me. I've made some life long friends and I am truly grateful for that."

On being recognized as outstanding actress in a leading role, Plank said it felt "so cool" with the biggest smile across her face, clutching at her trophy in hands.

"Being able to go up and there and be the total opposite of what I am was so fun and so different. And the fact that people enjoyed it as much as I did really warms my heart."

Outstanding actor in a leading role went to Michael Johnson, a junior at North Fort Myers High School, for his work as Bert in "Mary Poppins."

A musical journeyman, Johnson has been a part of musical theatre since the sixth grade and says he's gotten into it even more as the years have gone on.

"Studying acting and the whole process of putting on a show is exhilarating," said Johnson.

"This is such a fun and spectacular experience for us, so well organized and we're grateful," Johnson said when asked about the event.

Delving into a character is his favorite part of being involved in productions according to Johnson.

"Being that character. Learning all about it and becoming that character is just the best feeling in the world," he said. "Bert, he's such a fun character, I feel like he really fit my personality, and it's just the best feeling doing what you love.

"Extremely surprised," was the response Johnson had on receiving the award for outstanding actor in a lead role.

"I did not expect it at all. I have absolutely no words no words ... amazing," concluded Johnson.

The final award of the night was for outstanding overall production, awarded to North Fort Myers High School for "Mary Poppins," with the runner up being Lehigh's "Hairspray."

Lehigh will receive $500 in money to their arts program, and North Fort Myers will receive $1,500 and year-round bragging rights to outstanding overall production.



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