After a triumphant return to an in-person musical, the cast and crew behind the Performing Arts Department’s Something Rotten continued their successes at the Philadelphia Independence Awards. With sixteen nominations, anticipation built for the May 23, 2022 awards ceremony. After live performances and deliberation, Something Rotten and its performers took home five awards.
The Philadelphia Independence Awards celebrate and recognize exceptional works in musical theater by schools in the Philadelphia region. This year, over one thousand high school students gathered to perform snippets of their shows, receive recognition, and meet other student actors.
Students spent the latter half of the day at the awards. Fourth Former Jai Bonaparte was among the students present.
“We were at the Temple [University] Performing Arts Center,” Bonaparte said. “We performed the numbers ’Right Hand Man’ and ’Hard to be the Bard.’”
While the awards took up the evening, much preparation was in order, too.
Sixth Former Damian Ferraro said, “We started off by doing a dress rehearsal. So we had to get mic’d, we had to make sure everything was set up backstage, and then we did our dress rehearsal. We had to make sure the program was put in shape.”
Something Rotten received nominations in many categories, ranging from vocals and acting to lighting and overall best show. Of those won, Fifth Former Thomas Pendergast received Best Supporting Actor, and Grace Morley, a Junior at the Academy of Notre Dame de Namur, was awarded Best Supporting Actress, Best Vocalist, and Best Song. Many were also included in the award for Best Dance Ensemble.
Aria Ferraro, a Radnor High School sophomore who accepted the award for the dance ensemble, recalled the shock of being called to the stage.
“I was surprised because other groups were so good,” she said. “I went on stage and my mouth was wide open. I was like, ’what’s going on?’ I walked slowly up to the podium and everyone was cheering—it was such a surreal moment.”
Ferraro then gave a speech she prepared, mentioning the cast as she spoke.
She said, “I’m super proud of the dance ensemble.”
Director Mr. Darren Hengst believes a changing arts dynamic contributed to Something Rotten’s success.
“I think it is our program here at Haverford and the importance the arts have gained throughout the time I’ve been here, which would be the thing that goes unnoticed,” Mr. Hengst said.
Mr. Hengst also highlights the many unsung heroes working behind the scenes.
“This show’s success doesn’t happen without Miss Hallman’s productions and classes. She instills confidence in our guys and gets them comfortable on stage and working with each other. And without Mr. and Mrs. Case and Mr. Stroud’s music classes and choirs, our boys don’t come to our shows understanding music and their voice,” Mr. Hengst wrote. “Mr. Hightower working directly with our cast and also the Glee club and Notables [is] the perfect support point. He is supporting them through his conductor role.”
Mr. Hengst recalls the night not only for its successes but also for its warmth and camaraderie.
“We absolutely had a wonderful night,” Mr. Hengst shared, “but what I’ll remember most about the night is the number of cast and crew members that came out to support each other. Our cast and crew took over the balcony and when every nominee was mentioned, you knew Haverford was in the house by the cheers that came down.
Fifth Former Harvey Pennington, who played Shakespeare, saw the experience as an encore.
“I love the experience and it was really cool to do a performance one last time with the guys,” Pennington said. “I was so happy to see some of our guys win and it really summed up the work we put in. I was also lucky enough to do the opening number with Grace Morley and twenty other schools.”
Mr. Hengst equates the experience to developing a family, as awards series like the Independence Awards are not purely about competition; instead, they are about enjoying the art of performance and creating bonds with others.
“That’s what theater does,” Mr. Hengst recounted, “it creates lifelong connections. When I looked at prom pictures and saw our guys going to prom with girls from the cast, or students excited to be back to rehearse a number again for the awards show, it shows the importance and need for this type of activity for our students.”
And it’s not just within the cast and crew of Something Rotten. Connections were made with other groups, too.
“We had dinner with all the other groups—we got to see all the other groups go through during the dress rehearsal. [The cast] met up with some other schools and talked and socialized for a bit,” said actor Damian Ferraro.
This opportunity to watch and see others was the highlight for Ferraro.
“The highlight for me—a really humbling moment for me—was knowing that there are so many other schools that have really good theater programs. The structure of the [Independence Awards] featured a bunch of different ensembles from different musicals, and all of the nominees for the best musical were put on a list and all had one or two songs they performed. There were so many other schools with amazing shows,” he recalled.
With hard work having paid off, there is excitement for next year’s production potential.
“While this show may seem like its own entity, it is years of work and commitment to build a successful production like Something Rotten!,” Mr. Hengst wrote. I look forward to doing it again next year when we produce Les Misérables.
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