When Westfield High presented the musical, "Godspell," last November, it not only wowed the local community but knocked the socks off the Cappie critics.
The result was 12 Cappie nominations — more than any other school competing — an impressive achievement in Westfield's second year of existence. Excited and proud, drama director Scott Pafumi attributed it to Westfield's cast, plus its interpretation and vision of this noted musical.
"I knew we had something special, the night of the Cappies show," he said. "Many of the critics thanked me afterward for the experience and e-mailed me about how much they enjoyed it. Some even asked for a copy of the video."
Last year, Westfield got just two Cappie nods. This year, it's in the running for a dozen awards, ranging from best musical, featured actor and actress, lead actor, best ensemble and female vocalist to best orchestra and a slew of technical honors.
"This speaks to who we are and what we are becoming as a community," said Pafumi. "And it's nice to have people outside our local, theatre community know that Westfield Theatre is an artistic force to be reckoned with."
He also noted that, after seeing "Godspell," an anonymous donor in the community is giving the school a $1,000 scholarship for the next three years. Westfield matched it with theatre-booster funds so that two $1,000 scholarships will be presented at the senior awards banquet. Ironically, the ceremony is June 9, the same day Westfield will perform "Godspell" for the Cappies awards ceremony at The Kennedy Center.
But Westfield's Theatre Department held its own ceremony, last Thursday, May 23. Pafumi presented 41 gold medals with the Cappies insignia to members of the cast — 37 nominated for Cappies (including 23 in the ensemble and five orchestra members) and four Commended Students — Adam Rolfe, Kyle Rommel, Megan Henry and Jesse Leahy — selected by Pafumi.
"What I'm most proud of is our receiving the nominations for best musical and best ensemble because the biggest thing I'm trying to teach here is ensembleship," he said. "So it's nice to get that recognition for our whole cast of 24 players." (The other honorees are orchestra and crew members).
Pafumi is not one for producing plays and musicals the same way they've always been done. Instead, he thinks outside the box, creates his own vision and comes up with something entirely different. "Godspell" is case in point.
Although the stories told in "Godspell" are Biblical parables, their moral messages speak to Christians and non-Christians alike, helping people understand that they should treat each other with kindness and love. Explained stage manager Georgette Flood: "Mr. Pafumi's vision doesn't emphasize Jesus as a whole, but instead as a teacher with his elementary-school students in modern times."
Westfield therefore set its production in a school with a giant playground, with Jesus teaching the children lessons in a fun way so they'd learn and remember them. Said Flood: "It's all about finding the individual, the good within people and how to work as a group."
The students in class composed the ensemble, and sophomore Ashley Ford loved being part of it. Said Ford: "It was so much fun — each student had a different personality." Calling "Godspell" an "awesome experience spiritually," she said, "The fact that we get to perform at The Kennedy Center makes [Westfield's nominations] 10 times better."
Under music director Michael Viega, "Godspell" became a rock musical — including jazzy tunes and blues — for more of a connection to today's audiences. And two of the five Westfield orchestra members nominated for Cappies — Greg Moore and Nathan Rosborough — will play at The Kennedy Center ceremony.
Sophomore Jon Lawlor, nominated for lead actor in a musical, portrayed Jesus. He was pleased with the recognition because "this is something I want to do for the rest of my life. This is high-school theater, and it's nice that it's something special."
He felt "absolutely great" to be in a category among other talented actors and thanked Pafumi for "leading me through, helping me become the part and giving me the chance to be a lead. He pays a lot of attention to ensembleship and is open to suggestions. He's also a perfectionist and is good at directing and saying, 'This is what I want' and making it happen."
Junior Courtney Reed, nominated for best female vocalist, was thrilled "Godspell" did so well: "Especially since it was Westfield's first musical ever, it was really exciting to have so many nominations."
Although hoping to be nominated, she was "shocked because of all the other competition." She performed "Bless the Lord, My Soul" and said Pafumi picked who sang what and gave her the inspiration to do her best. Said Reed: "It was such a powerful song, and I'm the lucky one who got to sing it."
Nominated for featured actor in a musical was sophomore Derek Rommel. He thought he had a "pretty good chance" at a Cappie nod because "I went from laughing to throwing myself on the ground crying with grief — a whole range of emotions."
He said "Godspell's" recognition was "fantastic and well deserved." Said Rommel: "Everybody was emotionally involved in the musical and it was a family ensemble effort. It was a combination of a spectacle show and an emotional one, and I thought a lot of the audience members went away touched by it."
Junior Kylene Short, nominated for featured actress in a musical, said the school's dozen nominations were "pretty amazing — especially since we're the new kids." And her honor totally surprised her.
"I was just part of the ensemble; I had a solo, but so did five other girls," she said. "The nomination absolutely means the world to me — just being nominated is enough for me." Short said it's a pleasure working with Pafumi because he encourages "creativity and new ideas."
Sophomore Kevin Knickerbocker, best comic actor nominee, didn't expect his honor, either, but said he was thrilled. He said Pafumi's "a cool guy; he's like a kid, so he fits in and it's easy for him to relate to and communicate with us."
Lighting nominee Katie McElhaney was "seriously hoping and praying" for a Cappie nod, so she was "ecstatic." As for sound nominee Jimmy Lawlor, he said there's an old adage that good sound is never recognized, so he appreciates the honor. And because the Cappie nomination medals are gold, he said, "It feels like you've already won."
Props and Effects nominees Jackie Hansen and Reaves McElveen were also pleased. "We had no idea it was a category," said Hansen. "We actually laughed." Added McElveen: It was just nice being part of such a great play." And both advise other students to get involved in theater because, when you do, "Good things happen."