The dream was possible — and the star reachable — as Pleasantville High School’s production of “Man of La Mancha,” about knight errant Don Quixote who dared dream the impossible dream, took home the top honor at Monday’s 17th annual Metropolitan High School Theater Awards.
The awards, held at Archbishop Stepinac High School, honored achievements in high-school musicals from Rockland, Westchester, Putnam and Bergen counties. The sold-out event held to tradition in its 17th year, producing ear-splitting excitement from the 1,200 in attendance. (Read my category-by-category running recap here.)
Pleasantville took two of the top four prizes: for overall production and for its star, James McCarthy, named outstanding actor in a leading role.
It was the second straight best-actor win for McCarthy, a junior who won last year for playing French expatriate Emil De Becque in “South Pacific.” This year, McCarthy — who possesses a booming bass voice — played three roles in one: the imprisoned Miguel de Cervantes, who plays Alonso Quijana, who believes himself to be the knight errant Don Quixote, the famous windmill tilter.
Also winning for Pleasantville were student critic Katie Bartz — in a new category that sent students to review other schools’ productions — and music director Thomas Heintzelman.
When his name was announced, McCarthy strode to the podium, a slight limp in his stride that he later chalked up to being in character.
“Thank you guys so much,” he said. “I want to thank my parents for loving me so much. And my second parents, Dr. Heintzelman and Mrs. Warren. And the last person I want to thank is a person who is always in my life and always has a smile on his face and makes me believe that the impossible dream is attainable. I love my brother, Stephen.”
The night wasn’t just handing out hardware: The leading actor and actress nominees performed 16 bars from each of their performances, and each of the outstanding overall production nominees had their moments to shine.
Acceptance speeches were often drowned out by screaming fans, but the performances had the audience rapt.
When McCarthy sang his 16 bars of “The Impossible Dream,” the crowd fell silent, in awe of his booming bass voice.
Production numbers by the overall nominees had the company clapping along. When Brewster’s Brandon Salamone, as Lord Farquaad, entered during “Let Your Freak Flag Fly,” the audience went wild.
Host Stepinac also took home four honors, for its ground-breaking production of “Billy Elliot.” The all-boys Catholic high school was the first school to ever stage the Elton John musical, about an English boy who prefers ballet to boxing.
Stepinac’s Frank Portanova won for best director and Gianna Prignano of Harrison won for her portrayal of Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s ballet teacher. As Stepinac has no girls in attendance, it recruits actresses from across the region.
The production also won honors for dance performance — John Guaragna as Older Billy — and female vocal performance for Amelia Sasson as Mum, a category that resulted in a tie (with Valhalla’s Natalie Bochi).
Brewster High School’s production of “Shrek,” which entered the evening with 15 nominations, took home three awards.
The musical, based on the Dreamworks animated feature about an ogre whose swamp is overrrun by fairytale creatures, won the featured-ensemble-group category for its Fairytale Creatures.
Andrew Gordon (as Shrek) and Sydney Gershon (as Fiona) won for best duet for “I Think I Got You Beat” and the Brewster stage crew took home the Metro for its work.
Two Bergen County schools — last year’s overall winner Fair Lawn and Bergen County Academies — took home three Metros each.
Fair Lawn’s “A Man of No Importance” won for supporting actress Sarah Gruber (Adele Rice), instrumentalist Elizabeth Collins, and lighting designer Andrew Scharwath.
Bergen County Academies’ production of “Kiss Me, Kate” won for male vocal performance for Joseph Nasta as (Fred Graham /Petruchio), for costume design by Janet Hughes, Victoria Pero, Terry Thiry, and for techincal merit, a teacher-nominated category that had three winners.
Emcees for the evening were Broadway actors Clay Thomson (of “Matilda”) and Christopher Rice (of “Book of Mormon”).
Thomson and Rice kept things going and adlibbed admirably, as when Tappan Zee’s Quiana Iacobellis took to the stage to accept the child-actor honors for Jacob Oliensis – who had already accepted his award.
Rice then declared, a la Kanye West, that Beyonce had the best album of the year.
And the crowd erupted.