Attendance at this year’s Columbus High School spring musical may have been down from previous years, but the number of nominations and awards that the show received hit an all-time high.
“The Drowsy Chaperone” garnered 12 nominations and five awards from the Tommys, the Wisconsin high school musical awards program named after Lodi-native Tom Wopat.
“Once those nominations came back, I think it validated the choice of the show that we did, and it validated the work that we did,” said director Mark Lefeber.
Lefeber was among the winners, getting an award for Outstanding Direction. Other winners included Angela Tompach, who took home her third Tommy for Outstanding Costume Design, James Steffen, who was singled out for Outstanding Lighting and students Mina Kianovsky, who won for Outstanding Lead Actor, and Cleo Reynolds, who won the Spirit Award.
Lefeber blamed the lower attendance on the fact that this year’s show was less well known that his previous choices, which included “Beauty and the Beast,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Grease.” But he said the cast and crew loved the show, which had a lot of comedic elements, and it got a great response from the audience.
“To have so many actors, and our set, our lights, our costumes, our direction overall be nominated, I feel like that showed that even though it’s not that well known of a show and we didn’t have a ton of people there, we still had an amazing show,” Lefeber said.
He rang the praises of the entire cast and crew and was thrilled to see the show bring home so many Tommys.
The adults who won were given their awards at a Directors and Designers Banquet June 3, while the student winners were recognized in a huge three-hour production at the Overture Center on Sunday that will air on Wisconsin Public Television in the fall.
Kianovsky and Reynolds both got to get on stage as part of an ensemble and perform a song and dance number with other award winners in their category.
Lefeber said nominees and winners are chosen by an independent panel of judges, and there are no limits as to how many people can win an award in any category.
For the lead actor category, there were probably about 70 winners selected. They were broken up into five different groups for the ceremony, with each group doing its own medley and each winner getting to do a short solo — or in Kianovsky’s case, a monologue, since her character, Woman in Chair, didn’t sing.
The fact that she didn’t sing initially caused some uncertainty as to whether she could be considered for a lead role award. The rules state each winner in that category has to have a solo. Kianovsky ended up having to appeal to the national Tommy’s board, which agreed to make an exception in her case because she was on stage throughout the entire show.
“I didn’t even give her an intermission,” Lefeber said. “I made her stay up there and just keep knitting.”
Kianovsky and Reynolds had only a couple of rehearsals on stage in Madison before the show. Because it’s such a big production, Lefeber said the whole show never gets run in its entirety until the night of the event, which is a little nerve-wracking for the kids, but it always comes together somehow.
In addition to winning the Spirit Award, Reynolds was also nominated as a supporting actor.
“Cleo has come so far in the last year,” Lefeber said. She’s had problems with nerves in the past that have made it hard for her to even get through an audition without crying. But this year, she walked into the audition confident and composed and did a great job. Lefeber said he didn’t even look at her audition sheet to see what role she wanted. He just heard her sing and knew immediately she would be perfect for the role of Kitty.
The Spirit Award is voted on by the cast, and Lefeber said Reynolds was always positive and trying to be helpful, even when stress levels were at their highest.
As for the adult winners, Lefeber said he’s been very lucky to work with Tompach and Steffen, who are both consummate professionals.
“Angela’s clearly one of the best costume designers in the state,” Lefeber said. “I don’t have the records to prove that she’s the only one to get an award three years in a row, but she’s just got such an eye for detail.”
In regard to the lighting, Lefeber said the show-within-a-show concept, made “The Drowsy Chaperone” a challenge for Steffen. He was constantly having to switch the lighting between Kianovsky’s Woman in Chair, who was telling a story in modern day, and the rest of the production, which was taking place in the 1920s.
Lefeber said the school’s old lighting board was damaged during construction in the high school last summer, which meant they had to invest in a new one. That turned out to be a positive, because it would have been virtually impossible to light the show the way it should have been lit with the old board’s limitations.