All three local high schools did themselves proud, Sunday night, winning a total of six awards — including best play for Centreville High's "Rumors" — at the 2003 Cappies Gala at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Westfield won three Cappies, Centreville, two, and Chantilly, one.
"We all got something, and each school got to perform a scene and be in the procession across the stage," said Chantilly drama director Ed Monk, who also directed Sunday's awards ceremony. "The Cappies [program] has been good to western Fairfax County."
Robinson Secondary School snagged the most awards — five — for its musical, "My Fair Lady," followed by Madison with four for its production of "Chicago." Together, these two schools plus Westfield garnered 12 — nearly a third — of the 35 total awards presented at this fourth annual event feting high-school theater.
Centreville's Eric St. Peter was chosen best lead actor in a play for his portrayal of party guest Lenny Ganz, and Emily Bever captured best lead-actress honors for her performance in the title role of Chantilly's "I Remember Mama."
In other top awards, Madison took home the trophy for best musical. Yasir Latifi was selected best lead actor for his portrayal of Julian Marsh in Hayfield's "42nd Street," and Margaret Long of Osbourn Park, in Prince William County, was honored as best lead actress in a musical for her role in "Camelot."
Under the auspices of the Cappies (Critics and Awards Program), nearly 300 theater students from public and private high schools in Northern Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., attended each others' shows, wrote reviews for newspapers and TV and served as judges.
Except for the three critics awards, all Cappie nominations and awards were based entirely on the votes of student critics. Some 43 shows — 25 musicals and 18 plays — competed for this year's Cappies, which honor both actors and tech crews.
<bt>"I'm just so proud of the kids," said Centreville Principal Pam Latt. "We're the only school that's won for best play and best musical. In 2001, we won best musical for 'The Mystery of Edwin Drood.'" She said "Rumors" was so good, she saw it twice — and laughed hard, both times.
"It's unusual comedy and requires unique attention to timing," said Latt. "It also had adult humor, but these kids really got into the heads of their characters. It was very impressive to watch what they did with it. And I was pleased that the Cappies recognized it and saw what I saw in it — because it was a big reach and a big risk for the students. It was not an easy play to do."
Representing Centreville's best-play victory Sunday were Theo Thompson, Ryann Morrow, Rachel Dolan and Michelle Boucher. "Holy cow — I'm floored," said Dolan, 18. "It's awesome." Morrow, 17, said, "Call me Miss Cleo — maybe I'm psychic — but I had a good feeling [that we were going to win]. I'm on Cloud 9 — it's amazing."
Boucher, who was the stage manager for "Rumors," said, "It's a great way to end a senior year." And she praised both drama director Mark Rogers and technical director Mike Hudson for providing such terrific inspiration to all the cast members. "I'm just very excited and thrilled," said Thompson, 18. "And, as a cast, I'm so glad we won the award."
Actually, added Morrow, it was a special evening for Centreville's thespians for another reason, as well. "Mr. Rogers just told us his wife's expecting a baby in December," she said. "So, for us, it's two great surprises in one night."
Centreville junior Eric St. Peter also got a pleasant surprise of his own when he was selected as best lead actor in a play. "I was nervous, but excited to be up there," he said. It was his first Cappie nomination and his first victory.
When he heard his name announced as the winner, said St. Peter, "My heart dropped and I was, like, 'Wow.' It's surreal. There's no way I could have done it without Mr. Rogers or the cast. He's the best director I've been around, and the cast was wonderful."
"After they won, I told them they made history tonight — the only school to win Cappies for both best play and best musical," said Rogers. "No one can ever take that away from you. I've never been prouder of a group of kids."
<bt>For its unusual, techno version of "Hamlet," Westfield won two technical awards — for sound and lighting, plus an acting award for best ensemble. Honored for sound were students Danielle Feuerberg, Blake Goss and Kristen McDermott.
"This is an amazing accomplishment," said Feuerberg afterward. "I truly can't believe it — I'm gonna cry. I'm just so proud I won it with two people I'm very good friends with. We all worked hard for this."
Goss was excited and happy "because it's our second year in a row to win for sound, and I'm hoping it's a tradition we'll continue at our school." Added McDermott: "I just feel so great and so proud of everyone that worked so hard on this play. I'm happy that we won this."
Westfield also won a second-in-a-row Cappie for lighting. "I'm still shaking," said John Bennett, 17. "I was so hopeful for this thing and, when [the presenter] said my name, all thought just left my mind — I was so happy. I put my heart and soul into making that play look good, and I'm so proud of what we accomplished."
The audience roared with laughter, Sunday night, when Westfield's Reaves McElveen, 16 1/2, and Branson Reese, 15, performed their hilarious gravediggers scene from "Hamlet." A short while later, the comic pair returned to the stage again — but, this time, to accept their award for best ensemble.
Awardees were only allowed six-word acceptance speeches, so the teens told each other, "Thank you, Branson" and "Thank you, Reaves," as they picked up their black onyx statue topped with a gold star. Later, McElveen admitted he was "a little shaky" from the excitement. "I really wanted to win this award because we worked really hard and really well together," he said. "It's good to be recognized for our efforts."
"Everything Reaves said, times two," added Reese. "I feel very honored — I can't feel my legs. And I'm proud to win this for Westfield."
While acknowledging that "two people is a pretty small ensemble," Westfield drama director Scott Pafumi said Reese and McElveen were dynamic and their performance at The Kennedy Center showed why they received the award. Winning for sound and lighting, two years in a row, was surprising, said Pafumi, "but it was a very technical production and very deserving."
"It was a great evening for high-school theater," he said. "It's all the people involved — the parents, the kids, everyone at school from the administrator, Dale Rumberger, on down — that make our theater program what it is. It's been wonderful watching everyone come together — we've truly formed a community."
"Once again, I'm so impressed with the kids — their talent and their drive," said Rumberger. "When you just look at the number of nominations we got , it's like an independent appraisal by their peers that they were worthy of winning [in those categories]. That's what makes it more genuine." Noting that parent and community support shows students that the arts are important, he added, "I'm very proud of the kids at Westfield."
<bt>Chantilly's Emily Bever, 18, also received one of the night's highest awards. She was feted with the trophy for best lead actress in a play for portraying the family matriarch in "I Remember Mama."
"I knew the play was beautiful, and I was just proud of our nominations," she said. As for her own award, she said she couldn't believe it.
Before going onstage, said Bever, "I was trying to calm myself down, saying, 'It's OK if you don't win.' I feel completely honored. I'm just so thankful that I was able to have the opportunity to do this. I'm so glad that Mr. Monk put his faith in me. This is the strongest ensemble play I've ever been in. Everyone really put their heart in it, and the characters became 'real.' It was a real family."
Drama director Ed Monk said, "Everyone was just thrilled for Emily. We all thought she deserved it — she did such a beautiful job." And just a few days earlier, he said, she was voted "Best All-Around Senior Girl" in the school's senior superlatives so, all in all, "it was a good week for her."
Calling her "an extremely talented, young actress," Chantilly Principal Tammy Turner, believes the future will find Bever on stage somewhere. "There aren't too many high-school students who can perform an entire play in a Norwegian accent," she said. "It wasn't like watching a high-school student perform a part — it was like watching the real thing. She became the character. I'm proud of her; it was a long night, but it was worth it."