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May 20, 2022

Middletown Area High Schools Receive Basie Nominations

By Les Pierce

Basie nominee Luke McCann (as Eugene) with Amelia Shaffer (as Cha Cha) in a scene from Middletown High School South’s “Grease”

The Count Basie Center for the Arts recently announced the nominations for the 17th annual Basie Awards. For Monmouth County high schools, the “Basies” are the local version of Broadway’s Tony Awards, and a nomination is a valued acknowledgement of excellence in theater production. This year, 16 dramas and 23 musical performances were evaluated by the Basie Awards nomination committee.

Middletown High School South’s drama “Back Story” earned four nominations: Julie Deltuvia – Supporting Actress in a Drama, Stephen Russo – Supporting Actor in a Drama, Jacquie Fischer and Laura Mazza – Outstanding Costume Design and Alexis Kozak – Outstanding Direction.

This was the eighth nomination for Basie-winning Director Kozak. Fischer and Mazza have received 16 costume design nominations. They have won four Basies, most recently in 2018 for “The Turning of Gertrude Lodge.”

South garnered six nominations for their musical “Grease”: Chorus in a Musical, Ava Presley Romano – Supporting Actress in a Musical, Luke McCann – Featured Male Performer, Jacquie Fischer – Outstanding Choreography in a Musical, Mike Raguseo – Outstanding Music Ensemble, Jacquie Fischer and Laura Mazza – Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical.

McCann, in the role of Eugene, is a senior who had made his first-ever stage appearance. Fischer has earned nine choreography nominations and has won four Basies, most recently for “Heathers” in 2018.  

“This current group of students is the hardest working bunch of actors we have had in years,” Kozak said. “They are so excited to finally be able to perform live again and are taking their opportunities to the fullest.”  

Middletown High School North was recognized for their production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream” with two nominations: Samuel Cusson – Lead Actor in a Drama and Alana Santiago, Jessica Heitmann, Danielle DeDonno and Takoda Morgan – Featured Ensemble Performers.

North’s musical production of “A Chorus Line” received 10 nominations: Chorus in a Musical, Ava Giglia – Lead Actress in a Musical, Samuel  Cusson – Lead Actor in a Musical, Jessica Heitmann – Supporting Actress in a Musical, Daniel Stefanski – Supporting Actor in a Musical, Peter Isherwood – Outstanding Musical Direction, Tara Mahoney – Outstanding Choreography in a Musical, David Buckle Jr – Outstanding Student / Adult Orchestra, Amanda Faria – Outstanding Direction in a Musical and Outstanding Musical Production.  

Director Faria previously received an Outstanding Direction nomination for MHSN’s production of “Our Town” in 2019.  

“These students are so mature and hardworking, it does not surprise me in the least bit that they received this recognition,” Faria stated. “They are all members of the Middletown Township District’s ‘Arts Academy’ with a concentration in theater. Because of their advanced level of acting and performance, I am able to do very challenging pieces at the high school level. ‘A Chorus Line’ was a very special production because of their vocal abilities, acting chops, comedic timing, and knowledge of the material. I am so incredibly proud of them.”

Mater Dei Prep received three nominations for their fall production of “Puffs”: Lily Grace Riddle – Lead Actress in a Drama, Daniel King – Supporting Actor in a Drama and Katherine Smith – Featured Ensemble Performer.

The company’s spring musical “Legally Blonde” earned ten nominations: Chorus in a Musical, Erin Fitzgerald – Supporting Actress in a Musical, Samantha Yannarelli – Supporting Actress in a Musical, Jenna Dacquel – Featured Female Performer, – Cindy J. Dwyer – Outstanding Musical Direction, Outstanding Direction in a Musical and Outstanding Musical Production, Sherrie Cole – Outstanding Costume Design in a Musical, Ken Dwyer and Jim Vail – Outstanding Set Design in a Musical, Scott Goldstein – Outstanding Lighting Design in a Musical.  

Christian Brothers Academy’s musical, “13 the Musical,” was recognized by the Basie committee with seven nominations: Chorus in a Musical, John Paul Shimkus – Supporting Actor in a Musical, Carolyn Hester – Supporting Actress in a Musical, Gina Morrello – Outstanding Choreography in a Musical, Christian Lopez – Outstanding Musical Direction, Christian Lopez and Nicolas Arena – Outstanding Small Music Ensemble, Pegasus Production Co. – Outstanding Musical Production.  

The annual celebration and awarding of the 2022 Basies is scheduled for Wednesday, May 25 at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank. Tickets are still available.