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James Buchanan takes home most Totem Pole awards

It seemed for a while that the cheering audience would bring down the ceiling at the third annual Totem Pole Playhouse Awards Sunday night at Gettysburg’s Majestic Theater.

The competition between 11 high school musical theater performance productions brought thunderous applause and ear-splitting cheers as individual performers and productions were announced.

In addition to the normal excitement for such events, this one carried an especially emotional undertone: It honored the life of James Buchanan High School student Violet Clark. Clark, who had played the clarinet in the orchestra for Buchanan’s production of Jekyll and Hyde.

Clark, who was 18, died in a car accident that occurred April 22 as she was leaving the high school after a party celebrating the school’s 13 nominations.

She died a few days later.

In Clark’s honor, Totem Pole Producing Artistic Director Rowan Joseph introduced a special “In Memoriam” musical performance by clarinetist Susan Kerr of Franz Schubert’s Ava Maria, Op.52, No. 6 accompanied on piano by Carrie Trax in recognition of James

Joseph said James Buchanan’s cast earned all its awards on its own merits, not because of Clark’s death.

“The winners were picked weeks before Violet was killed,” he said. “So there was no connection."

The "In Memorium" for Violet Clark can be viewed starting at about the 8:50 mark in the video below. Story continues below video. 

The productions are judged by a squad of 13 men and women involved in theater in the area, who all attended 11 performances by the various schools and evaluated them.

The awards go for outstanding production and performances by area high schools in Adams, Franklin and Fulton counties.

In all, the regional theater handed out 16 awards for outstanding production and performance of high school musicals Sunday evening in a ceremony filled with enthusiastic performances.

James Buchanan High School, Violet Clark’s alma mater, took home the top prize, the Carl Schurr Award for Outstanding Production of a High School Musical, for their production of Jekyll & Hyde.

Claire Alfree from the James Buchanan High School production of Jekyll & Hyde took home a trophy in the best actress category, and Grant Sanders from Gettysburg Area High School’s production of Catch Me if You Can and Hunter Daugherty from James Buchanan High School’s Jekyll & Hyde tied in the best actor category. James Buchanan student Lauren Dukehart won for Outstanding Supporting Actress and Antonio Rinaldi from Gettysburg Area High School won for Outstanding Supporting Male Actor. Outstanding Ensemble Actress and Actor honors went to Emilee Mae Sipes from Forbes Road Jr./Sr. High School’s production of Honk! and David Hewitt from Beauty and the Beast at Shippensburg High School.

Leading the vocal awards were Lauren Dukehart and Hunter Daugherty, both from James Buchanan High School’s production of Jekyll & Hyde as Outstanding Female and Male Soloists. Outstanding Vocal Duet was awarded to James Buchanan High School’s Lauren Dukehart and Claire Alfree for their rendition of “In His Eyes” from Jekyll & Hyde.

Chambersburg Area Senior High School received the trophy for Outstanding Small Ensemble Performance for the school’s rendition of the “Mama I’m a Big Girl Now” from their production of Hairspray and MacKenzie Harrison won Outstanding Featured Dancer for her work in Forbes Road Jr./Sr. High School’s production of Honk!.

James Buchanan High School walked away with the award for Outstanding Musical Production Number for the song Murder, Murder, New Oxford High School won the award for Outstanding Musical Chorus for their production of Les Miserables, and Outstanding Stage Crew was won by James Buchanan High School.

Adding to the excitement students from all eleven participating high schools took to the Majestic stage throughout the course of the evening with each school performing one production number from their musical. The nominees in the Outstanding Female and Male Solo Vocal Performance categories also performed live in front of the sold-out audience.

One student from each school was also honored by with the Jean Stapleton Award given to the student who contributed the most to the production of their school’s musicals, the winners were:  Bermudian Springs High School/ Madeline Grim; Chambersburg Area Senior High School/ Megan Bard; Forbes Road Jr./Sr. High School/ Rachel Waite; Gettysburg Area High School/ Seth Zimmann; James Buchanan High School/Veronica Harmon; Littlestown Area High School/Jessica Burnette; McConnellsburg High School/Logan Conner; Mercersburg Academy/ Emma Shapiro; New Oxford High School/Caleb Brown; Shippensburg High School/ David Hewitt; and Waynesboro Area High School/ Connor Garvin.

Nick Spurgeon, who directed the JBHS production, said Violet Clark would be very pleased with how the awards nigh turned out.

“She is still as much a part of this as anyone,” he said.

Serving as presenters during the ceremony were Alex Hayes, Bill and Drew Adams, Chad-Alan Carr, Dana Witt, David Keller, Duane Kanagy, Ed Riggs, Elise Overcash, Harry Hartman, Julie Strickland, Kelly Summerford, Ed “Mister Ed” Gotwalt, Rachel Kern, Randy Phiel, and Thomas Trgovac.

Rowan Joseph served as host for the event.