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Beline Obeid

Liggett student makes Broadway debut

Mary Anne Brush Staff Writer

Antonio Cipriano performed a solo from "Hello! My Baby" during an ensemble number at the National High School Musical Theatre Awards. Photo courtesy of The Jimmy Awards™
July 20, 2017
For University Liggett School musical theater student Antonio Cipriano, one award-winning performance has led to the next. The high school junior's portrayal of lead character Mickey McKee in Liggett's March production of "Hello! My Baby," earned him the opportunity to compete in the 6th annual Sutton Foster Ovation awards at Wharton Center in East Lansing May 21. His success in this competition — he and classmate Catherine Elliott, who also had a lead role in the school musical, were named best actor and actress among 52 high school drama students from across Michigan — led to his Broadway debut at the Minskoff Theatre during the ninth annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards.

"He's had an amazing run this spring," said Phillip Moss, director of Liggett Players, Liggett's student-run theater group, and chairman of the performing arts department. Cipriano and Elliott's nomination for the Sutton Foster Ovation awards resulted from Moss inviting a team of expert adjudicators to attend "Hello! My Baby." This year marked the first time two students from the same school received best actor and actress honors, Moss said.

The best actors and actresses performing lead roles in their respective high school musicals — 74 in all — from 37 regional programs across the country congregated in New York City to compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, hosted this year by Ben Platt of "Dear Evan Hansen" and presented by The Broadway League Foundation. The culmination of a week of intensive rehearsals and private coaching with New York University Tisch School of the Arts faculty and other professionals was the showcase Monday night, June 26, in which performers vied for The Jimmy Award™ named in honor of legendary Broadway theater owner and producer James M. Nederlander. Selected each year by a panel of judges comprised of Tony Award-winning producers, casting experts and industry professionals, The Jimmy Award™ recognizes the best performance by an actor and actress selected from the group of student performers.

For Cipriano, highlights from the all-expenses paid week leading up to the showcase were meeting Tony-award winning actor Platt and working with professionals in the business, from directors and choreographers to Broadway stars, both those currently performing and original cast members from major productions such as "A Chorus Line" and "Les Miserables."

The bulk of time was spent in rehearsals for the showcase, Cipriano said. Working with his assigned coach, Schele Williams, associate director for "Motown the Musical," Cipriano prepared a solo, "Lost in the Wilderness," from "Children of Eden." Students also spent time rehearsing for medleys made up of 20 male and 20 female performers, or in an ensemble number that was a tribute to Nederlander, who died last year.

Cipriano and Elliott were among the performers selected for the medleys, with each singing a solo from their high school show. Cipriano opened the show, reprising his role as Mickey McKee to perform "Some of These Days."

"Michael, the genius musical director, mashed all these songs together," Cipriano said. "He had a plan for how he wanted it to sound."

Cipriano's family was in the audience of a full house that night, along with his choir teacher from Liggett, Tyler Capa, who said, as a first-year teacher, it was "pretty cool seeing two of my students in an event like that .... representing Michigan. It was a very humbling experience."

"I had to see his Broadway debut," said his father, Joseph Cipriano. "We flew the whole family in. Tony opened the show with the very first song. He set the bar."

At the end of the production numbers, four male and four female finalists were selected. When Cipriano's name was called, he said he couldn't believe it.

"I was not expecting that at all," he said. "There were so many amazing people there. Every single person was exceptionally talented."

Five minutes after his name was called, he had to go on stage to perform his solo.

"It was the craziest thing. I was jumping up and down backstage," he said.

"He killed it," said his father. "It was so amazing. All the kids were amazing. I felt bad for the judges, frankly. Every one of those kids could be someone or something at any level on any Broadway show."

While Cipriano wasn't selected for The Jimmy Award, being named a finalist earned him a $2,500 educational scholarship from the Barry and Fran Weissler Foundation and the attention of a number of casting agents and directors, including Kenny Ortega, director and choreographer for "High School Musical," who talked with Cipriano after the show about auditioning for a movie; casting director Bernard Telsey; and a Disney casting director who told Cipriano he was Telsey's number one choice among the performing students.

Previously Cipriano traveled to London to audition for the role of Aladdin in the Disney live-action remake, conducting a full screen test for director Guy Ritchie.

Cipriano credited the Sutton Foster Ovation Awards for the opportunity and thanked his family, drama director Moss and vocal teacher Capa for their support.

"Mr. Capa just came (to Liggett) this year," he said. "He has helped me so much throughout this year."

"Perhaps the most important thing to remember about Tony is how humble and hard working he is," said Moss. "That is the core of his gift, his talent, and it is a great hand down from his parents. They are much to be commended for his success."

Cipriano also recognized his fellow performers.

"I made 73 new friends," he said. "Alone from being extremely talented, they were all so humble and so nice. It was like one big family by the end of the week. It was awesome. It was the coolest thing.

"It was the coolest week of my life," he added.

Check out Cipriano's solo at The Jimmy Awards™ and other performances at antonio cipriano.com.

Tags: Pointer 2017

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