There are certain givens at every Cappies Award Gala, which celebrates student theater in the National Capital Area. And the 14th annual gala in the Kennedy Center’s filled-to-capacity 2,400-seat Concert Hall on June 9 was happily no exception.
There were the boisterous surges of joyful noise--led by students with the support of their proud parents and teachers--that greeted the reading of every Cappie nominee and got substantially louder when each winner was announced.
Robinson Secondary School took the top Cappie honor for best musical for its production of “Hairspray.” James Madison High School’s production of “Lend Me a Tenor” received the Cappie for best play.
More than 7,000 students from 56 National Capital Area public and private schools currently are involved with Cappies.
There was the requisite, playful humor from the masters of ceremonies--Judy Bowns, Janie Strauss and Ed Monk--in between the brief, heartfelt sentiments, especially support for arts education, of VIP presenters--with Monk, Chantilly High School’s theater arts teacher, as usual, playing the fool.
And, most of all, there were the extraordinary talents of the young thespians, performing scenes from the 10 Cappie nominated plays and musicals during the almost four-hour gala.
One of the evening’s most oft-heard observations was: “Do you believe they are only high school students?”
All Cappies nominations and awards, in 40 separate categories, were based entirely on student critics’ votes, and the four critic awards were based on the number of shows each critic reviewed and the number of reviews published or broadcast. In May, student critics who reviewed five or more shows voted at the Leis Center in Falls Church.
The Cappies or the Critics and Awards Program for High School Theater was founded in 1999 by the late Bill Strauss, a McLean resident and Capitol Steps founder, and Bowns, a Vienna resident and theater arts and dance specialist at Fairfax County Public Schools, because both fervently believed that high school theater should be celebrated with the same acclaim as high school sports.
Bowns annually produces, directs and co-hosts the gala with Strauss’ widow Janie, a member of the Fairfax County Public Schools Board, and Monk.
The high school theater equivalent of Broadway’s Tony Awards, the 14th gala--perhaps not so coincidentally--was, as in past years, held on the same night as “that other awards program’’ in New York City.
Among the happiest of the Cappie recipients was Michael Lamar, 18, a senior at Robinson Secondary School, who personally won the Cappie for best “Male Vocalist” for his musically powerful and rocking portrayal of “Motormouth Maybelle” in “Hairspray.” If the jubilant and more than well-deserved standing ovation he received for singing “I Know Where I’ve Been,” which received a best song Cappie, too, is an indication, Lamar’s future might definitely include Broadway.
A trained singer, Lamar—who became “obsessed” with theater the first time he heard ‘Phantom of the Opera”--has been taking voice lessons for the past five years. He heads to Emerson College in Boston in the fall to study “musical theater” at its School of Performing Arts where he also hopes to earn a teaching degree.
Dazzled by his Cappie moment of stardom, he enthused, “Oh my gosh, I was singing on the stage of the Kennedy Center! It was an out-of-body experience. The only down side was that I missed the Tonys.”
Sharing similar ecstatic emotions were Cappie winners Brooke Johnson and Catherine Ariale. Johnson, a junior at Chantilly High School, received a Cappie for best supporting actress in a play for her school’s production of the comedy “You Can’t Take It With You.” Ariale, a student at West Springfield High School, received a Cappie for best lead actress in a play for her portrayal of Anne Frank in her school’s production of the drama “The Diary of Anne Frank.”
“It was a big shocker. I wasn’t expecting it, and it means a lot to me,” a gleeful Ariale said.
“This is so exciting! Johnson said, clutching her golden, star-shaped Cappie award. “I had no idea; I didn’t even prepare a speech because I thought I’d jinx it.”
Asked if she wanted a career in theater, Johnson mused laughing, “I’d love to, but I don’t know how much I’d love being a waitress. That’s where the conflict lies.”