By Cherie Messore

Kenny Awards Celebrate 26 Years Honoring High School Theatre

Students from the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts were nominated for multiple Kenny Awards for their production of Les Miserables this year.

This year marks the 26th anniversary of the Kenny Awards, a program launched by the Lipke Foundation in collaboration with Shea’s Performing Arts Center to support and honor high school theatre programs in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties.

Nominees in 14 categories were announced at the Shea’s Smith Theatre on April 17. This year’s finalists for the coveted Outstanding Musical Production are:

  • Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts for “Les Miserables”;
  • Cleveland Hill Union Free School for “Newsies”;
  • Cuba-Rushford Middle-High School for “Annie”;
  • John F. Kennedy High School for “The Wizard of Oz”;
  • Nardin Academy for “The Kind and I”;
  • Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School for “Sister Act”;
  • St. Mary’s High School for “The Addams Family”;
  • Sweet Home High School for “Mamma Mia!”;
  • Tonawanda High School for “Mamma Mia!”;

and

  • West Seneca West Senior High School for Legally Blonde.

The winning school will receive a $10,000 grant from the Lipke Foundation to exclusively benefit the school’s theatre program. The prize doubled in its 25th year: to date the Lipke Foundation has donated $125,000 to area high school theatre programs. Winners will be announced at the annual Kenny Award ceremony on May 11.

The Kenny Awards were developed by Buffalo native Meredith Lipke to honor the family’s patriarch Dr. Kenneth Lipke, founder of Gibraltar Steel, and a respected patron of the arts. Dr. Lipke had strong beliefs about the value of the arts community and the impact the arts can have on young lives. The program evolved to be more than a “best of” competition. Additional programs and opportunities for participating schools emphasize that participating in school theatre programs is transformative, whether it’s shaping the next generation theatre professional or theatre-loving audience member.There is immediate impact for students, too. “High school is hard enough,” says Carlisle Lipke Mitchell, executive director of the program and Dr. Lipke’s granddaughter. “By participating in a high school theatre production, any student can be part of something, on stage or behind the scenes, as a performer or not. To feel a part of something is really so important.”

Enhancing and evolving the program to meet a myriad of student performance and social needs is at the heart of this partnership. While the list of award categories has grown, enrichment opportunities have also increased. There’s even an annual Social Event where students can network and mingle. This came as a result of one of Lipke Mitchell’s observations during a past nomination announcement: “The kids were cheering for each other, not just their own schools.”  Fostering the sense of collegiality in an otherwise competitive setting is a plus in whole person development, which is a key attribute in theatre studies. It’s also a poignant reminder that the program honors the spirit of a family with strong local ties who found value in the intersection of Buffalo’s business and cultural communities.

The rest of the nominations include:

Outstanding Orchestral Performance

Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”

Nardin Academy –  “The Kind and I”

Niagara Wheatfield High School – “Sister Act”

West Seneca West High School – “Legally Blonde”

 

Outstanding Technical Design

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”;

Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Sweet Home High School – “Mamma Mia!”

Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”

 

Outstanding Choral Performance

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”

Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Tonawanda High School- “Mamma Mia!”

West Seneca West High School -”Legally Blonde”

 

Outstanding Scenic Design

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”;

Cuba-Rushford Middle-High School – “Annie”;

Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”;

West Seneca West Senior High Schoo l- Legally Blonde.

Outstanding Dramatic Performance

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”;

Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”;

Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”;

West Seneca West Senior High School – Legally Blond.

 

Outstanding Costume Design

Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”;

Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School – “Sister Act”;

St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”;

West Seneca West Senior High School – Legally Blond

 

Outstanding Dance Performance

Cleveland Hill Union Free- School for “Newsies”;

St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”;

Sweet Home High School – “Mamma Mia!”;

West Seneca West Senior High School – Legally Blond.

 

The Showstopper Award lives up to its name: it’s the number that generates palpable audience excitement. This year’s nominees are:

“Bows” and ending mega mix, Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”

“The King of New York,” Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”

“Lay Your Love on Me,” Sweet Home High School -”Mamma Mia!”

“Whipped Into Shape,” West Seneca West High School – “Legally Blonde”.

 

The Kenny adjudication team added a new category to honor younger performers for outstanding work with the high school casts.

The Rising Star Special Recognition performers are:

Jacob Dutka as the Mayor of Munchkinland, John F. Kennedy High School – “The Wizard of Oz”

Johnny Kiener, as Prince Chulalongkorn, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Samuel Parker as Gavroche, Buffalo Academy – the Visual and Performing Arts for “Les Miserables”

Jonah Williams as Les, Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”.

 

The Blossom Cohan Award honors the late doyenne of Buffalo theatre. Her work on stage and later behind the scenes at Studio Arena Theatre helped shape Buffalo’s theatre community. This award is given to the perform who “blossoms” in a role.

Sean Jones as Race, Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”

Haylee Morris as Rosie, Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”;

Abby Pocziwinsk as Sister Mary Lazarus, Niagara Wheatfield High Schoo – “Sister Act”

Issac Stearns as Lurch, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

 

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble

The ancestors, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

The Greek Chorus, West Seneca West High School –  “Legally Blonde”

Joey, TJ, Pablo, Niagara Wheatfield High School-  “Sister Act”

Tanya and Rosie, Tonawanda High School -”Mamma Mia!”;

 

Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role

Tallulah Gordon as Madame Thenardier, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”

Mary Clare Noonan, Tuptim, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Lucy San George, Paulette, West Seneca West High School – “Legally Blonde”

Emily Smith as Fantine, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”

 

Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role

Andrew Cegielski as Scarecrow, John F. Kennedy High School – “The Wizard of Oz”

Robert Dauria as Lun Tha, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I” St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Marten Linnan as Lucas, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Nick Scott as Curtis Jackson, Niagara Wheatfield High School- “Sister Act”

 

Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role

Alexandra Bastian as Sophie, Sweet Home High School -”Mamma Mia!”

Alaina Buckenroth as Mother Superior, Niagara Wheatfield High School-  “Sister Act”

Emily Kuhn as Sophie, Tonawanda High School -”Mamma Mia!”

Jessica Molle as Lady Thiang, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Kathryn Opalinski as Donna, Tonawanda High School -”Mamma Mia!”

Penelope Sergi as Elle Woods, West Seneca West High School –  “Legally Blonde”

 

Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role

Robert Barksdale as Emmett, West Seneca West High School –  “Legally Blonde”

Lane Findlay as Oliver Warbucks, Cuba-Rushford Middle-High School – “Annie”

Isaiah Gethers as Javert, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”

Dylan Gurnari as Gomez Addams, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Austin Marshall as The King, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Mathew Wilson as Jean Valjean, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”

The Kenny Awards is one of 43 regional programs to participate in The National High School Musical Theatre Awards  (The Jimmy Awards), a program of the Broadway League Foundation. The Outstanding Actor and Actress in a Leading Role Kenny award winners will be sent to the New York City to participate in this year’s Jimmy Awards program, June 24, hosted by Tony Award winning actor Ben Platt. Learn more about the Jimmy Awards here.  

The Annual Kenny Awards ceremony will be held at Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 11, 6pm. Tickets are $8 and go on sale at the box office on April 27. Learn more about the Kenny Awards here.