Westfield theater students knew their production of "Fiddler on the Roof" was something special. And critics confirmed it by nominating their musical for a whopping 13 Cappies.
"It's the highest number of Cappie nominations of any one school," said theater director Scott Pafumi. "The 13 nominations we earned gave us a total of 46 nominations in five years, for an average of nine per year."
CHANTILLY HIGH also got a Cappie nod for "A Christmas Carol." Student Marley Monk — who last year won for Best Set — was nominated for another tech award, this time for Best Sound.
Westfield's nominations included: Best Musical; Song, "To Life (L'Chaim);" Lead Actor in a Musical, Barry Armbruster; Featured Actor in a Musical, Kevin Manship; Female Vocalist, Carolyn Agan; Cameo Actor, Branson Reese; and Orchestra.
It was also nominated for: Choreography, Megan Meadows, Michelle Murgia, Tara Mitchell; Props and Effects, Kelsey Gaber, Katie Grimsland; Costumes, Tara DeVincenzo, Kelly Jones, Leandra Jacobson; Lighting, Helen Lynn; Sound, Michael Gendreau; and Special Award for Creativity (Musicianship), violinist Bethany Morris.
In a special celebration last Thursday, May 19, at Westfield, Pafumi presented gold Cappie medallions to each nominee and to four commended students he chose himself — Ben Mattox, Cheryl Cordingley, Brian Randall and Chelsea Stenger.
"These students were excellent in the whole, academic year of theater and best epitomize the excellence of the program," said Pafumi. "And this is not the critics saying you did a great job — this is me, your director, saying it — and in all areas."
Principal Mike Campbell and assistant theater director Zoe Campbell also participated in the festivities. "'Godspell' got 12 nominations and won best musical, and that put us on the map — not just as a theater, but as a high school," said Pafumi. "So this is not just a Theater Department pride, but a Westfield High pride."
Telling the students they're part of a tradition, he said, "Greatness doesn't change with graduation. It continues because excellence does not graduate. And, Cappies or no Cappies, I'm proud of you all."
Added Campbell: "When we did this year's school motto, 'Tradition Never Graduates,' I had the Fine and Performing Arts Department in Mind. And I think, next year, it'll be 'Repeat.'"
HONORING THE 25 orchestra students providing "Fiddler's" musical accompaniment, Pafumi said, "They were such a fine-tuned ensemble that, at first, the critics thought they were professionals. They did a great job under Laura McBride's direction."
He said Barry Armbruster — playing the lead, Tevye — "embodied the spirit of the actor with a voice that's been training for this part, I think, his whole life."
Armbruster, 17, who admitted he was exhausted after the show's four performances, called his Cappie nomination an "unbelievable honor. You always keep it in your mind and wonder if you're good enough to get a nomination. I'm glad they considered me."
Branson Reese said he was shocked at his Cameo Actor nod. "I didn't expect the Cappies to even notice it," he said. "It was a smaller part and had a few silly moments. But it's really nice, and I'm excited for Barry, too; he's got an amazing voice." As for the musical's nomination, said Reese, "That means every single person involved in it got recognized."
During the June 5 Cappies Gala at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., 25 Westfield students in full costume will sing and dance to the song, "L'Chaim." And senior Christi Steiffer, who — with fellow students Dallas Sweezy, Mario Ibarra, Bobby Dressel and Reema Samaha — will represent the school in the Best Song category, is thrilled with the nomination.
"I'm honored to be representing Westfield High," said Steiffer. "The hardest part was all the rehearsal time. When you're working all those hours, you don't think anything good will come of it. But when it all comes together at the end, you realize it was definitely worth it — it was great."
She believes Westfield has a good chance of winning a Cappie in this category: "The choreographers did an amazing job with the dance number. The ensemble is really tight, and I think that'll show through when we perform it."
Steiffer's "incredibly excited" because she's never before performed at The Kennedy Center and had hoped to do so before moving away. I'm going to Shenandoah Conservatory next year to [major] in Musical Theater and want to eventually perform on Broadway," she said.
This was Samaha's first mainstage production so, she said, she was impressed by her fellow performers and was "proud to be a part of it." As for Westfield's chances of winning some Cappies next month, she said, "I think we'll do great because we've worked very hard for it."
AS FOR choreography, Pafumi said the trio of senior girls who undertook this massive task really "took ownership of it. And not only did they choreograph the show, but they acted in some of the scenes they choreographed. They gave up dancing [outside of school] to be with us, and now 2,500 people will see their choreography at The Kennedy Center."
Choreographers Tara Mitchell, Michelle Murgia and Megan Meadows were all delighted with their Cappie nod. "Its really exciting because it's the first time our Theatre Department has been eligible for it, and Megan and Michelle are my two best friends," said Mitchell.
Since she hasn't seen the other shows competing in this category, she doesn't know Westfield's chances. But she's thrilled to get to perform "L'Chaim" at The Kennedy Center because, she said, "I think it's the best song we choreographed for the show."
Murgia was surprised with the nomination because "Fiddler" isn't primarily a dancing show. So, she said, "I'm glad they recognized that we recognized the tradition of the dancing and were true to the style." She, too, was overjoyed to be chosen for a possible award out of nearly 50 schools competing: "It's nice to know your work's appreciated."
Murgia believes Westfield will do well overall and she's happy the musical got nominated. "We just proved ourselves again," she said. "We lived up to our name [and reputation]. We don't want anyone to leave the theater disappointed, and I think that was reflected in the number of nominations we received." She says the Cappies Gala at The Kennedy Center will be lots of fun: "Our number's really energetic so I think the crowd will really like it."
Learning about the Cappie nomination online, Meadows said, "I was at my computer, screaming to my mom. You never expect to be nominated, but I'm very proud of it. I loved the choreography we did, and being nominated, recognized and getting to perform at The Kennedy Center is reward enough. She's also happy because it's "a big deal" for all the freshmen in "L'Chaim" to perform there.
For a show about tradition, said Pafumi, Westfield broke its own traditions with "Fiddler" by starting it at 7 p.m., having a cast of 50 and using student costumers and choreographers. He said it's "very satisfying" that the musical received so many honors: "I love that, once again, the cream has risen to the top. We do theater here that far exceeds high-school expectations."
BESIDES BEING popular and emotionally stimulating, Pafumi said "Fiddler" embraces "a spirituality and a sense of community and belonging" and is a good ensemble show. "No one person is more important than anyone else," he said. "And we had the right performers for the right roles."
He said Armbruster worked hard honing his voice and acting skills to play Tevye, which "needed an actor with refined acting choices and a rich singing voice. Barry has the large stage presence and voice to be believable in this part, and his relationships with [his onstage] wife and daughters were honest and real."
Regarding Female Vocalist nominee Carolyn Agan, who played Tevye's daughter Hodel, Pafumi said she plans a career in musical theater and brought extensive experience in it to Westfield. "She used her pure talents of character acting and singing, so it was the perfect part for her," he said. "She's been training for this her whole life."
Pafumi said the Cappies Gala showcases the best that high-school theater has to offer. As for Westfield's chances, he said, "We're walking in humbly with our 30 nominees, 13 nominations and the opportunity for 25 Westfield students to get to perform on stage — and that's enough for us. I'm happy this group gets to have what other Westfield groups before them have had."