If musical theater were a sport, the 5th Avenue Theatre Awards competition would be the state tournament for high school drama kids. Or, better yet, let’s call the 5th Avenue awards the state high school Tony awards.
Snohomish County schools tend to do well, and this year was no exception. And even better than usual for Arlington High School.
Edmonds Heights, a public alternative school, does two musical theater productions a year and perennially earns multiple nominations. At the awards show on June 6 at Seattle’s McCaw Hall, the Outstanding Direction award went to Edmonds Heights director Shileah Corey. Mukilteo’s Kamiak High School also is nominated annually. This year, the school’s retiring director Laurie Levine was awarded the 5th Avenue’s Lifetime Achievement award.
But the Snohomish County school earning the most nominations for 2015-16 was Arlington High School, for its March production of “Pippin.”
An offbeat musical, it wasn’t originally what longtime Arlington director Scott Moberly had planned to do. A production of “Guys and Dolls” had been in the works, but Moberly’s stagecraft classroom ended up being used for a different purpose this year. He had to come up with a show that didn’t require big painted sets.
Instead, Moberly used 42 16-inch blocks painted on all six sides to form the props and backgrounds for “Pippin.”
“There is no manual for this,” he said.
The cast and stage crew worked together to flip, stack and rotate the blocks for each scene change. This meant the crew had to wear costumes. And run.
“The crew kids want to wear black. They don’t want to be onstage,” Moberly said. “They spurn the spotlight; it’s out of their comfort zone.”
Moberly’s voice cracked a bit. “They deserved to be the state’s Outstanding Stage Crew. They were flawless.”
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Actors and directors associated with the 5th Avenue tour the state throughout the school year watching nearly 120 high school musical theater productions and nominating the shows for awards in 21 categories.
Arlington’s “Pippin” and Edmonds Heights’ “Urinetown” were two of only eight school productions nominated for the coveted top prize, Outstanding Overall Musical. In the end, Kentridge High School won.
But just to be nominated is an honor in itself, said Josh Basher, 18, who starred as Pippin and was nominated for the prized outstanding actor award.
A musical theater actor all four years at Arlington (plus a stint as a kid in the high school’s “Bye, Bye Birdie” show when he was in sixth grade), the graduating senior had always wanted to play the role. “Pippin,” a 1972 Stephen Schwartz musical, enjoyed a Tony award-winning revival on Broadway in 2013. Josh went to New York to see it.
“Having our school nominated for 10 awards for ‘Pippin’ was great,” he said. “It was nice to finally be recognized for all of our hard work. We were super excited. It might have been nice to win a few more awards, but when you consider that all the schools — rich, poor, urban, rural, big and small — are judged together, it was great to be nominated for outstanding musical.”
The Arlington cast was the first of the nominated top eight to perform at the awards ceremony at McCaw Hall.
Andrea Ramirez, 17, a junior, led the song “Magic To Do” in her role as the Leading Player of a mysterious performance troupe who are there to tell the story of Pippin, a young prince who is searching for significance.
“It was crazy to be on that huge stage with the audience screaming,” Andrea said. “We would not have been there without our teachers, who challenged us, pushed us to our potential and supported us.”
In the fall, Josh will go to Western Washington University to study to be a vocal music and drama teacher. Andrea will audition for next year’s AHS musical, “Guys and Dolls.” Yes, the stagecraft classroom is back, and Arlington audiences can expect beautifully painted big set pieces.
“But this year and those ‘Pippin’ blocks will always be special to us,” Moberly said. “It was an experience the kids will keep with them their entire lives.”
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About 10,000 students from around the state are involved annually in the 5th Avenue Theatre Awards Honoring High School Musical Theater competition. Since the awards were initiated in 2003, many of these students have gone on to professional theater careers in Seattle, around the country and on Broadway.
Here are the nominations for outstanding work, along with honorable mentions earned by Snohomish County high schools:
Arlington: Overall musical, direction, choreography, scene design, lighting design, costume design, stage crew (WIN), outstanding actor Josh Basher, supporting actor Rob Neeleman, chorus. Honorable mentions to outstanding actress Andrea Ramirez, supporting actress Channin Hudson, ensemble actress Emily Hawks and for the school’s lobby display.
Edmonds Heights: Overall musical, direction (WIN), outstanding actress Delaney Guyer, supporting actress Alia Thomaier, ensemble actress Erin Hyatt, lobby display, hair and makeup, ensemble group. Honorable mentions for music direction, choreography, orchestra, chorus, outstanding actor Tate Busby, ensemble actress Grace Bowen.
Everett: Honorable mentions for scenic design, ensemble actress Ana Coiley.
Glacier Peak: Outstanding actor Hayden Call, hair and makeup. Honorable mentions for choreography, ensemble actor Nathan Axford.
Kamiak: Music direction, stage crew, outstanding actress Lauren Carlos, chorus, costume design, ensemble actress Iris Vold, non-singing actor Kohta Hansen. Honorable mentions for direction, choreography, supporting actress Emily Vaughn, non-singing actor Hayden Vara, hair and makeup.
Lake Stevens: Costume design, lobby display. Honorable mentions for orchestra, ensemble group, outstanding actress Fiona Balbirona, choreography, ensemble actress Emily Grieser (Cavelero Mid High.)
Lynnwood: Outstanding actress McKenna Sessions, supporting actor Fes Semere. Honorable mentions for ensemble actress Miara Rios, orchestra, hair and makeup.
Marysville-Pilchuck: Special honors for educational impact (WIN). Honorable mention for lobby display
Meadowdale: Honorable mention for choreography.
Monroe: Ensemble actor Spencer Langston.
Snohomish: Non-singing Jordan Mielbrecht. Honorable mention for scenic design, non-singing actress Lily Stephens.
Stanwood: Honorable mention for ensemble actor Wes Garman, non-singing actress Laina Crouch.
Sultan: Honorable mention for non-singing actress Sachi Wizell.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; email@example.com.