Avonworth High School made the daring choice to present the dark, blood-soaked "Sweeney Todd" as its spring musical, and the risk paid off in a big way Saturday night at the 22nd annual Pittsburgh CLO Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater.
Avonworth captured best musical in Budget Level II and its two stars, Nathan Pool in the title role and Brooke Tate as Mrs. Lovett, were named best actor and actress, honors that include the opportunity to represent the Kellys at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards June 25 in New York City.
The pomp and circumstance of the Kellys ceremony at the Benedum Center included performances by the nominees for best musical and in the acting categories, including Avonworth's Emma Baker, who won for best supporting actress. Benjamin Torisky, Nathan Detroit in Quaker Valley High School's "Guys and Dolls," was voted best supporting actor.
Cameras rolling during the ceremony were filming a segment on the Kellys for the PBS documentary "Broadway or Bust," a three-part documentary series that tracks high school performers from regional programs to the national competition, also known as the Jimmys (for theater impresario James Nederlander). The documentary is scheduled to air at 8 p.m. Sundays starting Sept. 9.
The local awards are named for Pittsburgh native Gene Kelly, iconic star of such films as "An American in Paris" and "Singin' in the Rain," and co-presented by Pittsburgh CLO and Kelly's alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh. The Kelly Awards program, patterned after Broadway's Tony Awards, celebrates the importance of arts education and dedication that Allegheny County high schools devote to musical theater each spring.
The 32 participating schools this year were: Avonworth, Baldwin, Bishop Canevin, Central Catholic, Chartiers Valley, Deer Lakes, Elizabeth Forward, Hampton, Keystone Oaks, McKeesport, Moon, North Catholic, North Hills, Northgate, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, Penn Hills, Pine-Richland, Pittsburgh Allderdice, Pittsburgh Barack Obama Academy, Pittsburgh Brashear, Pittsburgh CAPA, Pittsburgh Perry, Plum, Quaker Valley, Riverview, St. Joseph, Serra Catholic, Springdale, West Allegheny, West Mifflin, Winchester Thurston and Woodland Hills.
Votes by a panel of more than 30 judges were tabulated by Downtown firm Deloitte LLP to select the nominees and winners. Best musical in the top-funded category, Budget III, went to Baldwin's "Curtains," and Quaker Valley was the winner in Budget I. Special guest presenters Saturday night included local media personalities and Kelly's widow, Patricia Ward Kelly.
Ms. Kelly spoke about being interviewed often about the 100th anniversary of her late husband's birth. Interviewers, she said, make a point to say he was a perfectionist.
"Gene hated that being called a perfectionist was being cast in a negative light," she told the crowd. "He said 'When you go to the surgeon, do you ask for the sloppy guy?' "
She said the best way to honor her famous husband is to reach for excellence in everything you do.
The 2012 Gene Kelly Award winners are:
Best Scenic Design: Budget Level I -- Quaker Valley; Budget Level II -- Avonworth; Budget Level III -- Woodland Hills.
Best Costume Design: Budget Level I -- St. Joseph; Budget Level II -- Hampton; Budget Level III -- Winchester Thurston.
Best Lighting Design: Budget Level I -- Quaker Valley; Budget Level II -- Avonworth; Budget Level III -- Woodland Hills.
Best All-Student Orchestra: Moon.
Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Benjamin Torisky of Quaker Valley (Nathan Detroit in "Guys and Dolls").
Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Emma Baker of Avonworth (Beggar Woman in "Sweeney Todd").
Best Ensemble: Hampton for "Damn Yankees."
Best Crew/Technical Execution: Woodland Hills.
Best Choreography: Hampton.
Best Direction: Avonworth.
Best Actor: Nathan Pool of Avonworth (Sweeney Todd in "Sweeney Todd").
Best Actress: Brooke Tate of Avonworth (Mrs. Lovett in "Sweeney Todd").
Best Musical: Budget Level I -- Quaker Valley for "Guys and Dolls"; Budget Level II -- Avonworth for "Sweeney Todd"; Budget Level III -- Baldwin for "Curtains."
The Charles Gray Award for Special Achievement in Arts Education: West Allegheny Middle School.
Distinguished Alumni Awards: Broadway veteran Michael McGurk and Yarone Zober, chief of staff for the Office of the Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh.
Kelly Critics Award (for excellence in writing theatrical critiques): Jacob Schramm from Central Catholic High School.
First Published May 27, 2012 4:00 AM