Metro-east claims 3 musical theater awards

For the News-DemocratJune 9, 2014 

The first two community theater productions of "Les Miserables" in St. Louis won a total of seven awards at the 15th annual Arts for Life Best Performance Awards on Sunday. Alpha Players of Florissant took home five while Take Two Productions nabbed two.

Take Two was the day's big winner with seven overall, as they were also honored with five awards for their regional debut of the musical comedy "Avenue Q."

The event, held this year at the Skip Viragh Center for the Arts, recognizes outstanding achievement in musical theater in the metropolitan St. Louis area, from southwest Illinois to St. Charles County.

Metro-east winners included Alton Little Theater's production of "The Drowsy Chaperone," and actors Mike Huelsmann of Breese and Evan Fifer of Granite City.

There were 146 nominees, and more than half were new, from the 43 shows produced last year by 30 amateur companies. Awards in 25 competitive categories as well as several special honors were bestowed.

The Alpha Players collected Best Musical -- Large Ensemble, Sharon Cotner won Best Direction, and Michael Blackwood and Becky Thorn won Best Music Direction for this fall production of Schonberg-Boublil's smash hit musical based on Victor Hugo's 19th century French novel. Jeremy Hyatt won Best Actor in a Supporting Role as Enjolras. Keith Boyer, who played Jean Valjean, received a special Founder's Recognition of Excellence Award.

The two Take Two honorees were Michael Huelsmann, Best Actor in a Leading Role as Inspector Javert, and Amanda Kocher, Best Actress in a Featured Role as Eponine.

The Take Two premiere of "Avenue Q," which features actors handling puppets, was named Best Musical -- Small Ensemble, and four performers won awards. Bob Efken, as Trekkie Monster, and Melissa Guffey, as Christmas Eve, won Best Actor and Actress in Comedic Roles, while Stephanie Merritt won Best Actress in a Leading Role as Kate Monster and Evan Fornachon won Best Actor in a Featured Role as Nicky/Newcomer.

Shooting Star Productions collected four for "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory," which won Best Youth Musical while Rhys Prosser as Augustus Gloop and Madison Lay as Veruca Salt won the inaugural awards for Youth Actor and Youth Actress in a Supporting Role. Sean T. Gundersen won Best Youth Actor in a Leading Role as the candy man himself.

Christ Memorial Productions' "Fiddler on the Roof" was recognized with three awards -- Nicky Collett won Best Actress in a Cameo Role as Fruma Sarah, Glenn Guillermo won Best Choreography, and Keith Poppitz, who played Tevye, received the LeeAnn Smih Cho Best Musical Performance, a special award.

Hawthorne Players won three for "The Secret Garden" -- Jean Heckmann won Best Costume Design while Courtney LaBelle Jackson won Best Actress in a Supporting Role as Martha Sowerby and Best Lighting Design went to Tony Anselmo.

Alton Little Theater's "The Drowsy Chaperone" won Best Set Design (Diana Enloe), while Eddie Hitchcock and Jeff Pruett won Best Duo or Group for portraying a pair of Gangsters.

For COCA Theatre Company's "In the Heights," Yvette Lu won Best Youth Actress in a Leading Role as Vanessa and Zach Erhardt was honored as Best Youth Musical Performance as Usnavi.

Evan Fifer won Best Actor in a Cameo Role as Pharoah in the Summerstage Inc. production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat."

Lindsey Peters, the Carpet in "Aladdin Jr." at O'Fallon Theater Works, won Best Youth Featured Dancer, a special honor.

Evey Ohs won Outstanding Juvenile Performance as Susan Waverly in "White Christmas."

Pat Klick won Best Actor in a Non-Singing Role as Chief Sitting Bull in Kirkwood Theatre Guild's production of "Annie Get Your Gun."

B. Quen Tibbs won Best Actress in a Non-Singing Role as Margaret in Act Two Theatre's "9 to 5 The Musical."

The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Dottie and Tony Bertolino, who have been involved in community theater for more than 30 years, both backstage and on stage.

Kaitlyn Smith, who plans to earn an MFA in musical theater at Indiana University in 2016, and John Roberts, who is a dance major at University of Missouri-Kansas City, were announced as the annual AFL Scholarship recipients, given to young people pursuing degrees in the arts.

Ryan Cooper, a three-time AFL winner who recently spent a year performing at DisneyWorld's Magic Kingdom, was the master of ceremonies. Diane Hanisch returned as Music Director for her 14th year.

For more information about Arts For Life, visit the website www.artsforlife.org.

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