Last year, Westfield High received 12 Cappie nominations — and won four — for its musical, "Godspell." This year, it's gotten another dozen Cappie nods, but for a drama, "Hamlet."
"It shows our balance as a theater program — we're strong in several genres," said drama director Scott Pafumi. "I'm proud of the work we've done, and we have an ensemble ethic of accomplishing tasks together. Everybody relies on each other, and those who've done it have become very passionate about [their work]."
Some 1,200 people came to see "Hamlet," Nov. 22-24, and were wowed by the novel combination of Shakespearean dialogue spoken by 1990s leather-clad actors in a techno dance-club setting. But Pafumi didn't know how it would strike the Cappies judges.
"It wasn't the traditional 'Hamlet' or a traditional, high-school play," he said. "This show was truly my heart's passion. It was a four-hour show and, by midnight, the audience was applauding on its feet. To me, that was reward enough; then to be remembered by the critics, this much later in the year, shows that we made a lasting impression on them."
Receiving nominations in 12 of the 15 categories for which it was eligible, Westfield was nominated for: best play; lead, featured, comic and cameo actors; featured actress; ensemble; lighting; sets; sound; makeup; and props and effects. (Pafumi also commended four students, on his own — seniors Jennifer Henderson and Carl Calabrese, junior Diane Rogers and freshman Barry Armbruster — for their whole year's worth of work).
NOMINATED FOR BEST ACTOR for portraying Hamlet, senior Brent Biondo, 18, said, "I was ecstatic — to be personally nominated is a great honor." He said Westfield's version of the play was so unique that he thought it would stand out: "It's a continuation of the quality of theater that Westfield upholds. Everybody put forth the same effort — without that kind of cohesiveness, the show might not have been as successful."
Up for featured actress is junior Ashley Ford, 16, who played Hamlet's lover, Ophelia. "I was really happy to be nominated," she said. "I'm excited that we brought home 12 nominations, yet again."
Calabrese, who played Laertes, is also thrilled. "I think we have a good chance [of winning for best play]," he said. "I'm hoping for the best."
Junior Derek Rommel, 16, received a featured-actor nod for his role as Claudius. "I thought I did good work, but I wasn't expecting a Cappie nomination," he said. What made his performance stand out, he believes, is that he was "emotionally invested" in it. Furthermore, said Rommel, "The way the play is written shows many different sides of Claudius, so it's difficult to play — and I think the judges recognized that."
Freshman Branson Reese and junior Reaves McElveen received double honors. Besides receiving a best-ensemble nomination for portraying the gravediggers, Reese was nominated for cameo actor and McElveen was nominated for comic actor.
Reese, 15, said he was "honored and shocked" by his cameo nomination and "didn't think that [my performance] would be anything taken seriously by the judges. I wasn't able to go to the other plays, so I didn't know what I was up against." As for the ensemble nod, he said, "I feel incredible — it's gravedigger power."
During the show, said Reese, he and McElveen "got to be really good friends and it helped the performance, and I guess the judges saw that. I couldn't have been nominated for either of these awards without him." He's also looking forward to performing a scene with McElveen at The Kennedy Center during the June 8 ceremony and, said Reese, "I feel awesome about it."
WHILE NOTING THAT ENSEMBLES are usually six to 10 people, McElveen, 16 1/2, believes they really deserve the nomination. "Branson and I worked together really well," he said. "We had a great chemistry." Regarding his comic-actor nomination, McElveen said his gravedigger character is the more talkative part.
"It's a very dramatic play, and our whole scene is separated from the rest of it," he explained. "It's not about death, but is just slapstick-style comedy. And [although] the Shakespearean dialogue makes it difficult to make it funny, we pulled it off. It really is nice to be noticed in your high-school theater world, as a whole."
Nominated for props and effects were Cheryl Cordingley, Bridgett Finley and Jennifer Lowe. "I was surprised because I'm a freshman and I didn't expect to be recognized to this magnitude," said Cordingley, 15. "I'm honored that they thought I did such a good job."
"What was really interesting is that we had fake blood that looked really realistic — and I was 'fortunate' to clean it up after every show," said Lowe, 18. Calling it a "great accomplishment" to get a Cappies nomination, she said the play's success is "a reflection of everyone's hard work and dedication."
Best sound nominees were Blake Goss, Danielle Feuerberg and Kristen McDermott. Goss' job, as music director, was finding music to fit each musical cue — whether a madrigal or techno song — and, in some instances, he wrote his own music. "There were 34 music cues, and I wrote one-third of them," he said. A senior, he's heading for the California Institute of the Arts and hopes to someday write music for TV and films.
John Bennett, 17, is up for lighting. "The lighting really accented the scenes to the point that — just by looking at it — you could tell something was different," he said. "It foreshadowed; for example, when the lights ran red, you knew Hamlet was going to die."
HE SAID IT MADE THE SHOW'S GREATNESS even better and he feels "excellent" about his nomination. Nervous about The Kennedy Center, Bennett said his heart's already in his throat and, award or not, he knows he did his best.
Junior Andrew Polski, nominated for best set, says the sheer size of "Hamlet's" set — two grand staircases, bedrooms and a party area, 50 feet wide by 18 feet high — made it noteworthy. And he's excited about the Cappies. "I love to design and build, and that's all I was looking forward to," he said. "This was my first Cappies show as set designer."
Makeup nominees are Georgette Flood and Stephanie Rapp. Pleased, Flood, 18, said it took lots of practice to put age makeup on the character, Polonius. "The general look of the show was trendy and dark, so I used dark eyes, dark lipstick and lots of rouge," she explained.
"It added to aesthetic of the show, and I'm very happy to get a nomination," she continued. "I've done makeup for every, single show here, so it's nice to be recognized. We're all going together to The Kennedy Center — it'll be a big family."