By Anastasia Millicker
High school students garner coveted prizes for theatrical productions
RED BANK – Anticipation and excitement were high as high school actors and actresses from more than 22 high schools attended the seventh annual Count Basie Theatre Awards on Wednesday, May 23, at the Count Basie Theatre.
The awards honoring excellence in Monmouth County High School theater began seven years ago with 15 high schools and 25 productions throughout the county, said Numa Saisselin, CEO of the Count Basie Theatre.
Now the awards have branched out to include 24 schools, 44 productions, 1,500 actors, 500 designers, more than 100 set designers and 400 musical groups and orchestras, Saisselin said.
“I get to spend my work day with Grammy, Tony, Emmy and Academy award winners, yet for the last seven years the night that inspires me the most is this night,” Saisselin said. “The talent and dedication seen on this stage tonight and on stages across Monmouth County all this school year tells me the creativity, dedication and the American work ethic are alive and well.”
The awards show kicked off with the song Putting It Together, performed by high school students from throughout Monmouth County.
Other performances included musical selections from nominees for Outstanding Musical Production including Howell High School’s Cabaret and Red Bank Catholic’s Into the Woods.
Politicians, arts council members from across the county, restaurant managers, previous award winners and state officials presented awards in more than 26 categories with many winners thanking their school boards for the continuation of arts in their schools.
“I have great hope for our future because of the future of art in our community. It is in the intertwined hands of people who created these productions. The prognosis for our collected future together is in my humble opinion excellent,” Saisselin told the audience packed with actors dressed in full costume.
Lifetime Achievement award winner Diane Mannion is an example of keeping the arts alive in a technology-based school. Seven years ago Mannion developed an art program at High Technology High School.
Today, 25 percent of the student body is involved in the school’s production. The program is fully funded and organized by students. This year, the school was nominated for Outstanding All Student Orchestra.
For Outstanding Stage Direction in a Drama, Anthony Greco took the Basie for his directing of Monmouth Regional High School’s production of 39 Steps. Greco also took home a Basie for Outstanding Drama Production.
Monmouth Regional High School picked up two additional rewards. David Ahlers received an award for Outstanding Lighting Design in a Drama. Nick D’Ambrosia won the award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama.
Middletown High School South took home three Basie awards. Alexis Kozak won the Outstanding Set Design in a Drama award, Jacqueline Mazza took home the Carole Malik Award for Outstanding Costume Design in a Drama, and Kelly Lozo for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, each for their roles in The Rimes of Elrich.
The big winner of the night was Red Bank Catholic High School sweeping the board with five Basies. Shawn Mack received the award for Outstanding Student/Adult Orchestra.
Director Andrew De Prisco took home two awards for Outstanding Production and Outstanding Stage Direction in a Musical. Mark Regan Jr. was named Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Musical for his role in Into the Woods. Fred Mayo, Debra Thime and Fred Sorrentino received the Carole Malik Award for Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical for their costumes in Into the Wood.
Matawan High School walked away with four Basies. Julie Takacs McKurth won the award for Outstanding Choreography in a Musical for her choreography in Guys and Dolls. The gamblers of Guys and Dolls took home the Basie for Outstanding Ensemble Group in a Musical. Uzo Amuzie, shaking from excitement, won the prize for Outstanding Featured Ensemble Performer in a Musical and Kayla Ryder was honored with the Basie for Outstanding Featured Ensemble Performer in a Musical for their roles in Guys and Dolls.
Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School received three Basies for their production of Jekyll and Hyde including Outstanding Chorus in a Musical, Bill Grillo and Vincent Mottern for Outstanding Musical Direction, and Dino Pagano and Suzanne Sweeney for Outstanding Set Design in a Musical.
Ocean Township High School won two Basies for its performance of Miss Saigon. George Ripley and Victoria Cascaes won Basies for their Outstanding Lighting in a Musical. Richard Huy won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical.
Freehold High School took home one Basie for Outstanding All Student Orchestra in a Musical. The orchestra under the direction of Pamela Massimini performed in the school’s production of Little Shop of Horrors.
Chris Dubrow of Red Bank Regional High School won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama in the school’s production of Midsummer Night’s Dream. Victoria Keiser earned the Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama award for her performance in Raritan High School’s Alice in Wonderland. Phil Limeri took home the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama for Mater Dei Prep’s performance of Almost, Maine. Chloe Chlakani, who played Annie Oakley in Shore Regional High School’s Annie Get Your Gun, won the Basie for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical.