By Jennifer Preyss

Riverwood International Charter High School students Karen Wexler, foreground, and Heather Marcus rehearse their parts in “Anything Goes.”

In hopes of snagging a nomination for a prestigious Shuler Hensley Award for Excellence in High School Theater, Riverwood International Charter High School theater students tirelessly are rehearsing “Anything Goes.”

They’ll perform it next month in the Sandy Springs school’s auditorium before a panel of three judges.
The production’s director, Mary Beth van der Hoek said this is the first year her students are participating in the Hensley Awards, but the cast does not intend to be distracted by judges and nominations. Whether or not they’re nominated, they’re going to perform as though it were any other production, she said.

“To me, the arts are not competitive, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope the judges think we’re as good as we think we are, “ van der Hoek said, laughing.
Riverwood senior Ellye Birnbrey, 17, is choreographing “Anything Goes” this year as her senior project. A dancer since she was 3, Birnbrey said she hopes the judges are wowed by one dance number in particular.
“I think the judges will be extremely impressed by the work of the tap chorus,” Birnbrey said, describing an “Anything Goes” tap number with about 40 student tappers dancing on stage together. “More than half of the chorus hadn’t started tapping before last August.”

Sara Lynn Woodruff plays “Anything Goes” as the Riverwood International Charter High School students practice their production of the number. They plan to perform it for judges from the Shuler Hensley Award program.

If nominated, the show’s cast and crew will attend the red carpet Tony Awards-style ceremony at The Cobb Energy Centre on Tuesday, April 13, 2010, which will include award presentations, guest presenters, and exciting performances by this year’s nominated productions. The awards are presented by The Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Foundation.

Awards will be given out in 15 categories, including Outstanding Actor and Actress, Outstanding Orchestra and Musical Accompaniment, and Outstanding Production.

Musical theater productions from 39 metro Atlanta public and private schools representing 11 counties and 12 school districts are screened by a team of 23 volunteer judges, who have been venturing out in groups of three since last September to view, then score each production. Schools participating in the screening must perform their production by the end of March to be included in the judging season.

Schools participating in the program include Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School, Atlanta International School, Chamblee High School, North Atlanta High School, North Springs Charter High School, and the Paideia School.

Another contender, Marist School, already has been judged for a performance of Stephen Sondheim and Burt Shevelove’s musical, “The Frogs,” which debuted at the school last fall.

Performing Arts Coordinator Stefanie Stadler, who co-directed and choreographed the musical, said her students are excitedly awaiting the results of the judge’s scoring, which is due out after all the productions have been screened.

When asked why she and fellow Marist Director Eric McNaughton chose this particular production, Stadler said she thought it would be “interesting”
for the judges. “It’s a not-very-often-performed piece,” Stadler said. “I’ve never seen a high school do it.”

Choreographer Elle Birnbrey demonstrates a dance step during a rehearsal for “Anything Goes.” Members of the chorus line follow her.

This was the first year Marist has taken part in the Hensley Awards, and Stadler said her students are looking forward to the opportunity to go to the awards ceremony in April. “They’re very excited about the whole thing,” she said.

Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre Foundation has more than doubled the number of area high schools vying for top honors at this year’s Hensley Awards. It’s the second year for the award, named for Marietta-born musical theater performer Hensley.

“There is such an excitement among high schools who are thrilled that they are a part of an event that honors their hard work and dedication to the arts,” Mark Kent, the Foundation’s director of education and community outreach said.

“The Shuler Awards provide a public acknowledgment that students involved in the arts are important and their efforts should be celebrated.”
Tickets for the Shuler Hensley Awards will go on sale beginning Feb. 12. More information about this event can be found on The Cobb Energy Centre’s Web site.