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Students relish red-carpet treatment at Syracuse High School Theatre Awards

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — On a rainy Saturday evening, the first ever Syracuse High School Theatre Awards honored students from more than 20 Central New York schools for exceptional accomplishments in the production and performance of theater.

The program was a Tony Awards-inspired production featuring hundreds of high school performers, cast, crew and orchestra members from local schools. Fourteen awards were presented throughout the evening.

Makenna Benson of Moravia High School won the award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role. She played “Sister” in “Damn Yankees.”

It’s like a high school team playing at the Dome.

“I couldn’t believe it, honestly,” said Benson, after winning. “There are so many big city schools here and we’re just little Moravia. It felt so good.”

Ashley Gusman, who played “Rosie” in Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” took home the award for Best Actress.

“I feel amazing,” said Gusman, 18. “This was worth all the work we put into the show. I love performing. Theater allows me to be free. Playing another character helps me better know who I am.”

Students also performed several musical acts throughout the night:

  • “A New World,” from “Songs for a New World” by all student performers
  • “Willkommen,” from “Cabaret” performed by Manlius Pebble Hill School
  • “Agony,” from “Into the Woods” performed by Cato Meridian High School
  • “On The Right Track,” from “Pippin” performed by Oswego High School
  • “Be Our Guest,” from “Beauty & The Beast” performed by Fayetteville-Manlius High School
  • “Over the Moon,” from “Rent” performed by William Nottingham High School
  • “Spanish Rose,” from “Bye Bye Birdie” performed by Bishop Ludden Jr/Sr High School
  • “Mambo,” from “West Side Story” performed by Waterville Jr./Sr.
    High School
  • “Lullaby of Broadway,” from “42nd Street” by all student performers.
  • For some student groups, performing in a theater like the Landmark was a big step up from their high school auditorium.

    Hannah Walsh, the choreographer for Bishop Ludden’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie,” said the Landmark performances and awards made her students “feel like they could play in the big leagues.”

    “We’re used to setting up folding chairs in our high school gym,” said Walsh. “I think this was a culture shock for them.”

    Grace Allyn, who played Sally Bowles in Manlius Pebble Hill School’s “Cabaret,” performed “Willkommen” on the Landmark stage to open the night’s program. Though Allyn has performed on professional stages before (at the Red House Arts Center), she called the night’s experience “surreal.”

    “That was the best opening number we’ve ever done,” said Allyn. “I can’t speak for everyone, but I feel like that was our best performance.”

    Rupert Krueger echoed that sentiment. He also performed “Willkommen” and won Best Actor for his portrayal of The Emcee in “Cabaret.”

    “The Landmark is breathtaking; it’s a beautiful space,” said Krueger. “Here, you can really feel the audience in the room.”

    Students clogged the lobby before and after the awards ceremony, taking selfies with theater teachers, parents and friends.

    For some, just seeing the historic theater for the first time was a big deal.

    As one student walked into the Landmark tonight, she yelled to her friends: “Dude, look at these stairs!”

    “I let some kids in through the alley entrance and one said, ‘This is the real deal!'” said Jim Albanese, executive director of the Landmark Theatre. “And they were just seeing the back of the theater. It’s like a high school team playing at the Carrier Dome.”

    See the full list of winners below:

    Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role

  • Ashley Gusman, Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School

    Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role

  • Rupert Krueger, Manlius Pebble Hill School

    Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Makenna Benson, Moravia High School

    Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Ryan Smith, Oswego High School

    The Rising Star Award

  • John Buttner, West Genesee High School

    Special Achievement

  • Devin Croad, Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School

    Outstanding Performance by a Student Orchestra

  • Marcellus Sr. High School, “Seussical the Musical”

    Outstanding Stage Crew

  • Jordan-Elbridge High School, “Kiss Me Kate”

    Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble/Chorus

  • Camden High School, “Mary Poppins”

    Outstanding Production Number

  • “America,” Waterville Jr./Sr. High School

    Outstanding Overall Production of a Musical

  • “Cabaret,” Manlius Pebble Hill School

    Outstanding Achievement by a Director

  • Tom Pietropaolo, Bishop Ludden Jr./Sr. High School

    Outstanding Achievement in Choreography

  • Michelle Koziara, Manlius Pebble Hill School

    Outstanding Achievement by a Music Director

  • Denise Oster, Moravia High School