“Sweeney” sweeps Kelly Awards

At the Kelly Awards: Gabrielle Nicely (choreographer), Brook Taite (Mrs. Lovett), Deborah Frauenholz (director), Nathan Pool (Sweeney Todd), Emma Baker (Beggar Lady), Ethan Simmons (Sailor).

The biggest show in town last weekend was the 22nd annual Kelly Awards, named for legendary local performer Gene Kelly. Staged at the Benedum Center, high schools from across Allegheny County showcased their 2012 musical productions, which ranged from standards such as "Bye, Bye Birdie" to the more contemporary "Curtains.'

"Sweeney Todd" decidedly does not fit the category of musical comedy, but by the end of the evening, Avonworth High School's production of that show had decidedly emerged as the biggest star of the Kellys, walking off with seven of the 11 awards for which it had been nominated, capped by being named best musical among Budget Level II shows.

Additional honors went to Brooke Taite and Nathan Pool, garnering best actress and actor awards; Emma Baker named best supporting actress, and Deborah Frauenholz named best director, those four awards drawn from all 32 shows entered in the competition.

Additional Budget Level II awards included best lighting design and best scenic design.

There always was the possibility that a show with a full title -- "Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" -- and whose central character provides customers with shaves that are "…the closest I ever gave," might pose a risk for high school theater, but the director did not see it that way.

"I never saw it as a gamble or a risk. It was definitely going to be a challenge, but we were ready for it and needed it. The students' enthusiasm and immediate professional focus told me that it was worth any risk. If one is never willing to push students beyond the simple or ordinary, then nothing is gained. I must also credit the principal [Kenneth Lockette] for his willingness to support the endeavor based on our mutual desire to provide significant challenges in the arts for our students. I did have to explain the artistic merits to some uncertain parents, and I was not sure that the community would take to it. However, support was amazing, and all performances were well attended," Frauenholz said.

The challenges of the show -- many theater experts regard "Sweeney" as being more an opera than a musical -- appealed to both the director and the cast.

"This particular group of students, especially the top talent, needed an unusually challenging vehicle to stretch both their artistic and personal growth. At the first read-through in December, the cast just devoured that script, dove right into some of the darkest experiences in the human condition and immediately began crafting roles," Frauenholz said

Brooke and Nathan now move on to the Jimmy Awards in New York City for a week of coaching and work-shopping with professionals before competing with top talent from across the country and a June 25 performance at the Minskoff Theater on Broadway.

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