The 2018 Gene Kelly Awards!

21751383_10155376725216195_9165540669059913130_nUnbelievably talented high school students along with glitz and glam were in abundance at this year’s Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater. The Benedum was packed to the rafters with 2,800 plus cheering students, families, and friends. Tickets to Hamilton may be hard to get, but the Kellys are always the hot ticket this time of year.

If you don’t have high-school aged family members who participate in high school musicals on stage or backstage you probably never heard much about the awards. They were started in 1991 by the Pittsburgh CLO, and they serve a dual purpose. The awards recognize and encourage student achievement in theatre. Also, they remind both the community and school district leadership of the positive impact of musical theater and arts education. While the Kelly Awards focus on schools within Allegheny County, similar awards programs have sprouted in other countries across the country.

Participation in the Kelly Awards program is at the discretion of each school.  Twenty-nine participated this year. Some feel that the arts should not be a competition, while others think the opportunity for their students to secure a college scholarship (there are several given out) is invaluable. Others feel the recognition in the awards enhances their schools and their student’s reputation within the community.

Throughout the evening, it was stressed by presenters that student engagement in high school theatre isn’t just about singing and dancing. Theatre enhances students valuable team building, collaboration, and problem-solving skills. Perhaps most importantly it brings together students from varied backgrounds and interests, from jocks, nerds, and geeks, who usually would pass each other in the hallways which creates long-lasting friendships.

One doesn’t necessarily think of good sportsmanship as an essential element of theatre, but it was on display throughout the evening. Yes, the bigger school’s applause and cheering were louder. But when there was a brilliant performance on stage, regardless of which school was on stage the entire crowd went wild. I have never heard more resounding thunderous applause and cheering at the Benedum.

Before we get into some of the awards presented, a shout out to Production Stage Manager Alicia Reece and her team for wrangling the literally hundreds of performers on and off stage at precisely the right time. Brian Beasley’s projection design effectively set the scene for each of the Best Musical nominees as well keeping the audience informed as to award categories, nominees, and winners throughout the evening. Lastly a special mention for the shows uncredited Sound Designer, Mixer and the on-stage audio assistants for moving the wireless mics seamlessly from performer group to group. For as complex as Kelly Awards stage presentation is, it pretty much went off without a hitch. A credit to the professionalism and experience of the Benedum stage crew.

Now for the Kellys. The Dean of Pittsburgh theatre critics, Dr. Christopher Rawson, presented the Rawson/Kelly Critics Award to Simon Sweeney, a student at Central Catholic for his show reviews. Rawson reminded us that the show lives on through the critics’ review.

Best Actor -

Best Actor – Nasir Butler

For the best actor and actress awards, the CLO, director Kiesha LaLama and musical director Robert Neumeyer created a medley of songs from the six nominees’ respective shows with everyone supporting as chorus and dancers when not their solo turn. What a brilliant way to show of individual student’s talent and allow for a comparison of talents and stage presence! The audience’s reaction to each solo performance accurately predicted the winner. New this year from Point Park University was a $5,000 scholarship for each to use at the college of their choice.

Best Actress -

Best Actress -Johanna Loughran

The 2018 Best Actor & Best Actress winners are Nasir Butler for his brilliant vocal performance as Jean Valjean in Les Misérables at Pittsburgh CAPA and Johanna Loughran as Cassie in Chorus Line at Central/Oakland Catholic. Both will travel to New York City to represent Pittsburgh in the Jimmy Awards on June 25, 2018.

Patricia Ward Kelly presented the award for best musical preceded by a poignant personal story stressing the importance of seizing the moment, as you never know what will happen next. You could have heard a pin drop when she spoke.

The Best Musicals are awarded by budget category, with the higher number reflecting the more significant financial investment. The winners were:

Budget Category I: Redeemer Lutheran, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast

Budget Category II: Pittsburgh CAPA, Les Misérables

Budget Category III: Woodland Hills, The Drowsy Chaperone

The biggest winner of the night was the schools and their musical theatre programs as the CLO announced a grant program to help schools with production costs, funded by the Gismondi Family Foundation. A loud round of applause to the Gismondis and all of the incredible talent on display at the Kelly Awards.

You can find the complete list of categories, nominees, winners, and information on participating in the awards at http://www.pittsburghclo.org/education/gene-kelly-awards

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