Archbishop Stepinac High School’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” earned the top honor — best overall production — at Monday’s 14th annual Metropolitan High School Theater Awards at Peekskill’s Paramount Center for the Arts.
“Phantom,” at the all-boys Catholic high school in White Plains, was up for 15 awards and came away with four: overall production; leading actor (New Rochelle’s Albert Stanaj, in the title role, in a performance that tied with Fair Lawn’s Sean Dabney, as conflicted director Guido Contini, in “Nine”); best supporting actor, (White Plains’ Chris Guzman); and scenic design (Joe Lore and June Ricciardi). It was the first time Stepinac had won the top prize.
Guzman bounded to the podium in the cape his character wears.
“Thank you to everyone,” he said. “This is such an honor. Thank you to my cast and crew and everyone. And to my family. And I, too, would like to thank God.”
THE METROS WENT TO: Read the list of winners
When Skylar Gottlieb picked up her best-acting honors for playing Rose in “Gypsy,” the Suffern native, who attends Saddle River Day School, couldn’t help but comment on the music that brought her to the stage, a recording of Patti LuPone singing the role.
“Whoa! And a good recording, too. Patti. Way to go,” she said. “I want to thank my school for being crazy and doing ‘Gypsy.’ What school does ‘Gypsy’? And my family for putting up with my crazy theater life. And to Jackie Moro for pulling me out of my shell. I was shy at one point. And my director. No one can play Mama Rose without a great director.”
The leading-actress award went to Ossining’s Mykaela Copeland, above, who portrayed the title character in “Aida,” a production that was also honored for its chorus and, in the technical-merit category, for stage manager and lighting designer Jessica Fleischman.
Bergen County Academies, a magnet school in Hackensack, N.J., earned four Metro Awards: for production number; orchestra; director Victoria Pero; and costumes, an award shared by Pero, Terry Thiry and Janet Adamo.
The sold-out Paramount, a restored moviehouse in downtown Peekskill, was filled to the rafters with 1,025 cheering high-school-musical fans, who arrived by the busload in their finest awards-show regalia. Once inside, they were seated by school, so that when each nominee was announced, a different pocket of the Paramount erupted in applause.
The Metros honor excellence in musical theater among the schools who enter the competition, which is sponsored by the Helen Hayes Youth Theater and producer Danielle Rudess. This year, 37 schools — 20 schools from Westchester County, 12 from Bergen County, and five schools from Rockland County — put themselves in the running, in 27 categories ranging from best lobby display to best direction.
Emcee Adam Seitz, a Broadway veteran, warmed up the crowd with a harmonica and with a selection of the voices he has performed on TV and in video games. He advised the high-schoolers to “study your craft, and get a day job.”
Stepinac’s overall-production win came with an assist from actresses recruited from across the region, two of whom — Nicole Heney and Samantha Kenny — are from Rye Brook and were nominated for best actress and supporting actress.
In addition to “Phantom,” the local nominees for overall production were Briarcliff’s “Sugar” and Pleasantville’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Also in the running were three productions from Bergen County: Northern Highlands’ “The Wedding Singer”; Bergen Academies’ “The King and I”; and Fair Lawn’s “Nine.”
This year’s awards ceremony included performances by overall-production nominees, leading-actor and leading-actress nominees.
The Metros also took a moment to bid farewell to two retiring giants in Westchester high school musical theater: Woodlands’ John MacLean, who has been directing shows for 22 years, and Pat Rinello, a 40-year force in direction, in Hastings, Port Chester and, for the past 35 years, at Rye Neck.
Nominees in 26 categories are decided by paid judges, whose ballots are tabulated. Nominees in the 27th category, technical merit, are submitted by teachers, who send portfolios of the students’ work to be judged by a panel of technical-theater professionals who review the materials and choose a winner.
The Westchester productions were Stepinac’s “Phantom of the Opera,” Blind Brook’s “Hello Dolly!” Briarcliff’s “Sugar,” Edgemont’s “Oklahoma!,” Harrison’s “42nd Street,” Hastings’ “Pippin,” Hendrick Hudson’s “The Pajama Game,” Kennedy Catholic’s “Anything Goes,” Lakeland’s “Oklahoma!,” Ossining’s “Aida,” Pleasantville’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Port Chester’s “All Shook Up,” Rye’s “Pippin,” Rye Neck’s “Beauty and the Beast,” Salesian’s “Grease,” Solomon Schecter’s “The Pajama Game,” Tuckahoe’s “Annie Get Your Gun,” The Ursuline School’s “Grease,” Westlake’s “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and Woodlands’ “Once on the Island.”
The participating musicals from Rockland were Clarkstown South’s “Into the Woods,” Pearl River’s “Damn Yankees,” Rockland Country Day School’s “Urinetown,” Spring Valley’s “Footloose,” and Tappan Zee’s “Sweet Charity.”
Shows from Bergen County were Academy of the Holy Angels’ “Footloose,” Bergen County Academies’ “The King and I,” Don Bosco Prep’s “Will Rogers Follies,” Emerson’s “I Love a Piano,” Fair Lawn’s “Nine,” Glen Rock’s “Grease,” Hackensack’s “Grease,” Ramsey’s “Curtains,” River Dell’s “Willy Wonka,” Northern Highlands’ “The Wedding Singer,” Saddle River Day’s “Gypsy,” and St. Joseph Regional’s “Cabaret.”
The Metros began at the now-defunct Helen Hayes Theater Company in Nyack, as a tribute to Hayes, the Nyack resident and first lady of the American stage. For years, they were nicknamed “The Helens.”
The name was changed in 2009, after the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., balked that the high-school honors caused confusion with its Helen Hayes awards.