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Metro Awards: Stepinac's "Hunchback" takes top prize



Stepinac's production of "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" took home 4 Metro awards, including "Best Overall Production." Other winners included freshman Jeremey Fuentes '20, who won "Best Lead Actor", senior Anthony Pietroloungo '17, who won "Best Supporting Actor", and faculty member Joe Lore '02 for "Best Scenic Design"


Archbishop Stepinac High School’s production of “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” was named outstanding overall production at the 19th annual Metropolitan High School Theater Awards at Purchase College’s Performing Arts Center on Monday.

The production — the regional high-school premiere of the Alan Menken-Stephen Schwartz musical based on the Victor Hugo novel about a hunchback, a gypsy girl and an evil archdeacon — also took home Metros in two top acting categories.

Freshman Jeremy Fuentes, in the title role, won for leading actor and senior Anthony Pietroluongo, as the villainous Frollo, won for supporting actor.

When Stepinac won the top award, the room rose to their feet as robed members of the production took the stage. Producer Keith Sunderland met each student at the top of the stairs, welcoming them to the stage.

Sunderland congratulated the other nominees.

"Every single theater program creates a sanctuary in your schools," he said. "This show is a prayer that everyone who feels as an outcast will be recognized as children of God."

A performance from the musical — about acceptance and creating havens for each other — produced the evening's most powerful moment, when the Stepinac cast opened their long gray robes to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with slogans from social causes.

Choose Life; No War, Know Peace; Hope Not Hate; Be a Sanctuary; Pray for Paris; Pray for London; Love is Love; Stop Abuse; We are All Human; Let UR Light Shine; and Haters Gonna Hate.

Photo: Carucha L. Meuse/The Journal News

The shirts added a level of contemporary social awareness that provided a major theme in the musical's story. It was named the evening's "Metro Moment."

Fuentes accepted his award wearing his "Be a Sanctuary" T-shirt. He thanked Stepinac "for accepting a freshman in a leading role."

Brewster High School’s Megan Campbell won the Metro for leading actress, for her portrayal of the practically perfect nanny Mary Poppins. The production was also honored for child actor Brooke Ryan (as Jane Banks), and cameo performance for Martina Rossi (Bird Woman).

Campbell used her white-gloved hands to dab tears from her eyes, thanking her coaches, teachers and her cast and pit and congratulating her fellow nominees.

The Metros honor work performed at participating schools in Rockland, Putnam, Westchester and Bergen counties. This year, 53 schools put their hats in the Metros ring and were adjudicated in 31 categories — from lobby display and child actor to the big prize, outstanding overall production.

The awards are produced by Danielle Rudess of Nyack’s Helen Hayes Youth Theater. The Journal News/lohud.com is the official media sponsor.

Metros night wasn’t just about handing out the hardware. There were performances by each overall-production cast and by leading-actor and leading actress nominees. They were accompanied by Jordan Rudess, keyboardist for the progressive-rock band Dream Theater, producer Rudess' husband.

The schools nominated for overall production were Academy of the Holy Angels’ "The Mystery of Edwin Drood," Archbishop Stepinac’s "The Hunchback of Notre Dame," Brewster’s "Mary Poppins," Harrison’s "The Addams Family," Northern Valley Old Tappan’s "Tarzan," and Sleepy Hollow’s "Pippin."

The applause was thunderous in the triple-tiered 1,500-seat Concert Hall, the venue for the Metros for the first time since 2001.

Hosting this year’s event were two actors with ties to the Lower Hudson Valley: Adam Chanler-Berat and Kyle Beltran.

Chanler-Berat grew up in New City and graduated from Clarkstown High School South. He was a product of the Metros sponsor, the Helen Hayes Youth Theater, and went on to Broadway, appearing in “Next to Normal,” and the just-closed “Amelie.”

Beltran has been seen in the national tour and Broadway companies of “In the Heights” and will star in this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He grew up in White Plains, Tuckahoe and Yorktown and attended Fieldston School in Riverdale.

Chanler-Berat closed by saying the evening gave him "hope for the American theater" and reinforced the importance of arts education.

In addition to overall production, and the leading- and supporting-actor wins, Stepinac took a Metro for its scenic design (Joe Lore and June Ricciardi). Their set was massive, complete with elevated walkways and a full complement of bells for the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

The all-boys Catholic high school in White Plains — which recruits actresses from across the region — was nominated for 18 Metros.

Harrison High School’s “The Addams Family,” was awarded four Metro Awards: for stage manager Jess Prado, director Deborah Toteda, for the show’s chorus, and for outstanding duet, for “Live Before We Die,” featuring Timothy Morris and Gianna Prignano, who also appeared in Stepinac’s much-lauded “Hunchback.”

Toteda, accepting the award, borrowed from "The Addams Family" saying: "I just want to snap!" She called it "one of the best experiences of my teaching career." 

“Tarzan” at Northern Valley High School in Old Tappan garnered three Metros: for supporting actress Jamie Budge (as Kala), Donna Dolby’s costumes, and Alison Owusu’s choreography.

Sleepy Hollow’s production of “Pippin” won two Metro Awards, for Mary Delvecchio’s vocal performance as Catherine and Henry Titcomb’s acting performance in the title role.

Mount Vernon’s first trip to the Metro Awards was rewarded. The district has been building a performing-arts program in recent years, under director Evelyn Collins, and this year staged “Raisin,” the musical adaptation of Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun,” a combined effort of all of the city's high schools. Dionysia Placide won the female-acting category for her portrayal of Mama Lena, the matriarch trying to keep her family together.

Bergen County Academies’ production of “Hot Mikado” won two Metros, for student orchestra and outstanding instrumentalist, pianist Jicheol Ha.

Demarest’s Academy of the Holy Angels’ production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” won two Metros, for George Croom’s musical direction and the stage crew.

Putnam Valley’s James Caposito made it back-to-back wins in the dance-performance category, winning the Metro for his athletic performance in the title role of “Billy Elliot” a year after taking home the Metro in the same category playing Bill Snibson in “Me and My Girl.”

Caposito was also nominated for leading actor and he used his performance to demonstrate his dancing chops, circling the stage effortlessly. 

This was the 19th annual event to honor Lower Hudson Valley musicals. It began at the now-defunct Helen Hayes Theatre Company in Nyack and the awards were long called "The Helens," until that name ran afoul of the annual awards bestowed to Washington, D.C.'s, professional theater artists.

Story Credit: Peter D. Kramer, The Journal News