In the end, the Metro judges were crazy for Harrison High School’s production of “Crazy for You,” named outstanding overall production at Monday’s 15th annual Metropolitan High School Theater Awards at the Paramount Hudson Valley theater in Peekskill. (That’s Harrison learning the news, above, in a photo by Matthew E. Brown of The Journal News.)
Harrison’s version of the tap-happy, all-Gershwin musical also won for best musical direction and choreography for teachers Lynn Fusco and Deborah Toteda, respectively.
In recent years, Toteda has choreographed productions at Briarcliff, Pleasantville, Putnam Valley and Rye Neck, and choreographed and directed at Kennedy Catholic in Somers.
In receiving her award, Toteda recalled bringing her 2 1/2-year-old daughter to Sunday’s pre-Metros rehearsal and watching her fall in love with musical theater the way she had. Toteda also thanked her superintendent, who was at the show, for “finding a spot for her me” at Harrison, a district she said that nurtured the arts.
It was a loud, proud night at the reborn movie theater in downtown Peekskill, with more than 1,000 screaming fans dressed in their best to cheer on their schools. When each nominee’s name was read, the room erupted in cheers; when the winners were named, pandemonium broke out.
Master of ceremonies John Treacy Egan, taking a night off from Broadway’s “Nice Work If You Can Get It” in which he plays a singing cop opposite Matthew Broderick and Jessie Mueller, kept the night running briskly, encouraging the audience to applaud and scream whenever the spirit moved them. “Let ‘er rip,” he told them. Throughout the evening, the Larchmont native (who has also appeared in “Sister Act,” “The Producers” and “The Little Mermaid”) related award categories to his work in theater, spinning stories about costumes or stage crew or set design, in a witty and appropriate way.
There were production numbers from all seven schools nominated for best overall production, the honor won by Harrison. And nominees for best actor and actress also had their moments to shine.
Among the most memorable of the production numbers was Pleasantville’s “Peter Pan,” (above) complete with a creeping crocodile, a snarling Captain Hook, pirates, Indians led by Tiger Lily and Lost Boys led by a boy who’ll never grow up, played by Pleasantville senior Emily Hamilton, who won the award for best duet (with Emmalisa Stangarone) seconds before the number began.
This year’s awards, sponsored by producer Danielle Rudess’ Helen Hayes Youth Theatre, mark achievements in 40 participating high-school musicals from Rockland, Westchester and Bergen counties.
It was a big night for Port Chester’s Rosie Veltri, (above) named outstanding actress in a leading role for her performance as Tracy Turnblad in “Hairspray.” Last fall, the senior won the Westchester Idol singing competition, sponsored by PMT Productions at Irvington Town Hall Theater.
Archbishop Stepinac’s Chris Guzman of White Plains, who last year was named outstanding supporting actor for playing Raoul in Stepinac’s award-winning “Phantom of the Opera,” added another Metro to his mantel: He was named outstanding actor in a leading role for playing Che in “Evita.”
Perhaps one of the evening’s most touching moments came when the award for outstanding acting performance was awarded to Jakub Spisak of Ramapo High School’s “25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.”
Spisak, who played Leaf Coneybear in the show, took to the stage, visibly shaken.
“Oh my God. This is very unexpected to me,” he said. “I am from Slovakia, a foreign exchange student at Ramapo. I’m actually leaving a month from today. I can’t believe the experiences I’ve had here. I want to thank our director and my cast. I want to share this with you. I love you all.”
Pleasantville’s Griffin Senyek (above) brought the crowd to its feet when he was named outstanding child actor, for playing Michael Darling in “Peter Pan.” He strode to the podium, which was too tall for him.
So he stood next to the podium and delivered his acceptance speech.
“I would like to thank the Metros for giving me this award,” he said. “And my mom for letting me try out and supporting me during the performance, the cast and crew for supporting me during the performance and Mrs. Warren for directing my play.”
In the end, after the Paramount had cleared out and kids boarded their buses to head home — to Fair Lawn or Pleasantville or Port Chester — the kids from Harrison held onto the moment, standing outside under the brightly lit marquee to wave good-bye to their fellow musical-theater lovers who had witnessed a night that Harrison won’t soon forget.