WEST FORSYTH — In a night teeming with talent, West Forsyth High School’s drama department stole the show.
The school’s production of “Nice Work If You Can Get It” won eight Shuler Hensley awards on April 23. That marked the most accolades the program has received at once and the second-best showing ever of any school in the state, according to West’s theater director, Eric Gray.
“We’re still floating a little bit,” Gray said. “We worked really hard. I tell them all the time if they believe in the process and are diligent, at some point it will pay off. We don’t take it for granted, that’s for sure.”
The annual Georgia High School Musical Theater Awards celebrated excellence in high school musical theater productions at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre as a program of the ArtsBridge Foundation, which provides performing arts education programs.
A team of more than 60 Atlanta-based arts professionals evaluated the productions of the 50 participating high schools to narrow nominations and honorable mentions down to 24 public and private schools from throughout the state.
West was nominated for 13 of the 17 categories in the seventh annual Tony-style award show.
The production — it involved 60 students from cast to crew — was awarded for overall production, ensemble, best performance by a leading actor, best performance by a supporting actor, sound, costume design, technical execution and music direction.
“It was the right show at the right time with the right group of kids,” Gray said.
Rabun-Gap Nacoochee School in Georgia’s far northeast corner won the second-most awards, with five.
“We did the show as close to the Broadway production as we could,” Gray said. “We had actors swinging from chandeliers. We had 12 dance numbers. It’s a huge dance show, and we got them learning how to dance like the 20s.”
Nick Eibler, who won best actor for his portrayal of Jimmy Winter, will travel to New York City with the recipient of best actress to participate in the seventh annual National High School Musical Theater Awards in the Minskoff Theater on Broadway on June 29.
They will compete with young performers from across the country for the coveted Jimmy Award, merit scholarships and professional opportunities.
Last year, Georgia’s leading actress winner won the national award.
Eibler, a senior, will attend Texas State University for theater, Gray said.
Cody Marshall, also a senior who won supporting actor for his role of Cookie McGee, intends to pursue a theater degree at Elon University in North Carolina.
“Watching them start in one place and end at another,” Gray said, is “always the highlight. The growth that I see throughout the production as actors, as singers, as dancers, as a director that’s what’s thrilling to me.
“Give them the challenge and watch them achieve what you set out for them to achieve. And then winning these awards, it kind of gives credence to what we do.”
Unique to the ceremony this year, all five Forsyth County public high schools were involved in some way, whether through nominations, as members of the 69-person Shuler Student Ensemble that performed the opening and closing numbers or through the STAR Council that shadowed technical team members behind the scenes.
ArtsBridge presented three scholarships and one grant during the ceremony, and one of the two Broadway Dreams Performance Scholarships was awarded to Noel Isaacson of Lambert High.
“It was exciting that every school was involved,” Gray said. “They made it a point to announce it [during the ceremony]. I just love that I work in a school system where everybody is committed to theater.”