New Castle News

May 23, 2014

Mancini Awards: Cast of Neshannock musical joins athletes in winning performances

Dan Irwin
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — When it comes to extracurricular success at Neshannock, athletics immediately come to mind.

After all, this year alone, the high school’s football, baseball, softball and boys and girls basketball teams all advanced to post-season play.

On Wednesday night, though, it was time for the arts to shine.

Neshannock’s spring musical, “The Pajama Game,” received 11 trophies at the 20th annual Henry Mancini Theatre Awards at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland. The program celebrates outstanding student achievement in musical theater in Lawrence, Butler and Beaver counties.

Neshannock’s total included Outstanding Overall Production and Outstanding Overall Performance (one of three schools in both categories to win from a field of six nominees each), as well as individual honors for Carly Edman (Outstanding Leading Actress), Christian Na (Outstanding Supporting Actor) and Grant Weaver (Outstanding Noteworthy Individual).

Laurel and Shenango took home two group awards each for their musicals, while Ellwood City was honored three times, including an Outstanding Leading Actor nod for Joseph Cortez. Wilmington’s Josh Bonnici received recognition as an Outstanding Noteworthy Individual.

Neshannock was participating in the Mancinis for the first time in 16 years, and wasted no time making its presence known. Still, director Mike Cavalier noted that while the recognition might be new, the quality of the school’s musicals certainly is not.

“It’s always been there,” he said. “I’m going to say that of the 21 years I’ve been there, we’ve worked really hard to promote the musical program. It’s always been there, we just kind of fly under the radar and we always put on quality shows, and the kids always do a nice job.

“It’s nice for the students to be recognized for that.”

Cavalier added that although a return to the Mancinis was not on his radar when he decided on doing “The Pajama Game” this year, the production in the hands of a cast that included 20 seniors was a perfect fit.

“The show itself is just a fun show,” he said. “It has just so many great character roles, and when you do a show that has so many great character roles, where the kids have the opportunity to dance and to sing and to be characters, I think that’s what the adjudicators were looking for: characters. That’s what they want to see.”

Edman, recognized for her portrayal of Babe Williams, was part of the cast’s veteran contingent, having had her first lead role at Neshannock as a freshman. But that didn’t mean the performance came easy.

“Going into a leading role is always a little bit nerve-wracking, a little bit challenging but, theater runs in my blood, my family’s in the theater,” she said. “It is challenging, but if you do your best you challenge that family, innate talent and you just practice, practice, every single day, you will succeed and you will do well.

‘I just feel pretty blessed to be part of such an outstanding musical group. From our directors, up to the lighting booth, to backstage, we put our heart and soul into this production, and I couldn’t be more thankful to work with a better group of people.”

Weaver, meanwhile, was acting in his “first important role, not just chorus,” so “it was really spectacular that I was able to win this.”

“I’m just speechless right now,” he went on. “I really didn’t expect this to happen. I can’t wait to get home and put this (his award) up on my mantel.”

Na had not heard of the Mancini Awards until this year, but considered Neshannock’s 13 nominations “a win for our school and everyone in our cast.”

Playing just his second role, Na said he looked to multiple sources to help hone his performance.

“A good friend of mine’s dad played this role at the New Castle Playhouse, and I watched his version of it,” he said. “I drew from a bunch of different sources, and my director was very helpful, line delivery and posture and these little tiny things.

“But at the end, I felt like I grasped it and I guess it paid off.”

Rounding out the awards bestowed upon “The Pajama Game” were Outstanding Technical Execution, Outstanding Choreography Execution, Outstanding Ensemble, Outstanding Vocal Ensemble, Outstanding Community Engagement and Outstanding Noteworthy Group (male ensemble).

(Email: d_irwin@ncnewsonline.com)