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'Seussical' Hits 15

Stone Bridge High School drama teacher and director, Glen Hochkeppel, can only beam with pride when asked about the cast of the school's production of "Seussical the Musical."

"I am so pleased, this was just so much fun," he said. "I am tremendously impressed with what the students have done. There has just been such an excitement around this show."

Hochkeppel said that the excitement surrounding the show hit a high point during the Saturday, May 6, matinee and never diminished.

"Their matinee was flawless," he said. "It was the first time everything went perfectly. By that Saturday night, I think everyone felt that we had a great show here and had great confidence in their ability."

Hochkeppel and his students were right; they did have a great show, a fact that has been proven by their monumental achievement. This year Stone Bridge High School's "Seussical the Musical" was nominated for 15 National Capitol Area Cappies.

The Cappies, or Critics and Awards Program for High School Theater, was started in 1999 by Bill Strauss, founder of the Capitol Steps, as a way to celebrate positive achievements in local high schools.

"It really is a celebration of high-school theater," Strauss said. "It is a great ending to a great year of shows."

Since its inception, the Cappies have spread across the country with programs in California, Texas, Missouri and Florida. Stone Bridge is currently the only Loudoun County high school that participates in the Cappies.

Besides giving high-school productions the chance to be honored, the Cappies also encourages students to experience other high schools' productions through its critics program.

Each participating school has student critics who travel around Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to review other high-school plays and musicals. Those students who have reviewed more than five shows become eligible to vote for the awards. This year 305 high-school students voted for the 2006 nominees.

"[Voting] is a tightly proctored system," Strauss said. "Students can't vote for any categories where they personally are on the ballot and we have software that determines the outcome. There is nothing subjective; the chips fall where they may."

STONE BRIDGE'S 15 nominations is a record-breaking number, with no one school ever receiving as many nominations for a single show.

"It is truly a tremendous achievement," Strauss said. "We have typically had schools that had more than 10, but this is the highest."

For Hochkeppel and his cast, realization of the significance of their nominations was slow in coming.

"When I saw category after category with Stone Bridge's name on it, I was blown away," Hochkeppel said. "It was a wonderful little moment. It was just recently that I realized that it was the most [nominations] ever."

The cast was very excited, Hochkeppel said. He would see cast members hanging around in the hall outside the drama room, looking at the list of nominations over and over.

"They were constantly asking me questions about what it meant," Hochkeppel said. "They knew there were a million little details to work out."

Of its nominations, six are for behind-the-scenes work, including lighting, stage crew and choreography.

"Schools are only eligible for the technical awards if all the participants are students," Strauss said. "You typically have 30-40 schools eligible in these categories, so a nomination is a great accomplishment."

In addition to its technical nominations, Stone Bridge received many onstage nominations, including lead actor in a musical for Cat in the Hat, Mace Sorenson; featured actor in a musical for Horton the Elephant, Garrett Breenan; female vocalist for Sour Kangaroo, Catie Brown and song.

Hochkeppel said he is extremely proud of the nomination for their song, "Oh, the Thinks You Can Think," which is the opening number of the show.

"This is truly an ensemble show," he said. "Without the power and effervescence of that ensemble, the show wouldn't have had the power. I can't wait to see them perform that opening number on stage at the Kennedy Center."

Each nominated song will be performed live at the Cappies‚ award show, June 11, in the concert hall of the Kennedy Center.

"I think it is going to be an amazing thing to see them all up there on the stage," Stone Bridge Principal James Person said. "It is such a nice honor, especially following last year's issues."

IN 2005, Stone Bridge was at the center of a controversy that changed the policies of high-school theater in Loudoun County.

Following the performance of a one-act play, which was written by Stone Bridge student Audrey Jess the School Board voted to ban obscenity in all school plays and would require that high-school theater take the community's beliefs into account.

Jess' one-act play portrayed a high-school football player who is a homosexual. At the end of one scene two male characters lean in to kiss before the stage went black.

The almost-kiss landed Stone Bridge, Hochkeppel and Person in the middle of the decency debate, which Hochkeppel still does not totally understand.

"There was such a storm last year," he said, "but so much of the storm seemed beside the point. Those in the department were seeing how different things were on the inside than how they were viewed from the outside."

More than a year after the drama, however, both Hochkeppel and Person are looking forward and focusing on the positive things that are happening.

"It is ironic that now we are going to be known for children's theater," Person said.

The G-rated nature of "Seussical the Musical" did have some people asking Hochkeppel whether he intentionally played it safe.

"I put in to do this show two years ago, but I couldn't get the rights," he said. "I did it because it was a great show. It was never about anything else."

WHATEVER ISSUES Stone Bridge's drama department faced in the past had no affect on the Cappies critics who reviewed the show.

Winston Churchill High School critic Ben Hoffman called the presentation "unique and beautiful," the performances "wacky and wonderful," and the overall production "captivating."

Hayfield High School critic Sara Aultman went even further and wrote, "Stone Bridge High School's delightful and energetic interpretation of 'Seussical' beckons with the tempting call of the creative and bizarre, which charms every audience member with a sense that no matter what dreams you have, 'It's Possible.'"

Indeed it was the energy of the performers on stage that seemed to captivate Stone Bridge's audience the most.

"You could see the strong connection between the audience and the performers," Strauss, who saw the second act of Stone Bridge's final performance, said. "They were really giving it their all."

Even with all of the nominations, Hochkeppel is still proudest of the show itself.

"As pleased as everyone was when the announcement was made, I think everyone knew we had something special before that," he said. "We delighted the audience and I think that is more powerful then finding out about nominations. I couldn't have been happier than I was on that Saturday night."