Broadway has its well-established Tonys; Off Broadway its Obies — and every other branch of show business its various Grammys, Emmys, and Academys. And when the 10th annual Basie Awards roll out the red carpet in front of the Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank Wednesday night they’ll be doing what they’ve done so well: honoring tomorrow’s talents in the performing arts, both on stage and behind the scenes.
Established by the education arm of the Count Basie Theatre Foundation, the awards celebrate excellence in drama and musical productions among Monmouth County high schools, recognizing achievements in some 25 categories. It’s an arena in which more than a dozen area public, private and parochial facilities compete, with the schools of the greater Red Bank Green — including Red Bank Regional, Red Bank Catholic, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional, Middletown South, and Mater Dei Prep — clearly dominating the balloting in the 2015 nominations.
Leading the field with 14 separate nominations is Middletown High School South, where drama teacher and playwright Alexis Kozak debuted his own stage adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald novella The Diamond as Big as the Ritz last fall. Basie nominations went to Kozak as director, as well as to Elias Kotsis (Lead Actor), Laura Diorio (Supporting Actress) and Overall Production. The MHS South musical production of The Drowsy Chaperone scored nominations for Lead Actor (Brian Nohl), Director (Steven Koumoulis), Choreography (Jacqui Mazza) and overall Production.
Following close behind with 13 total nominations is Mater Dei Prep, with three productions — Mark Twain’s Is He Dead?, the comic mystery Curtains, and Loserville — balloting for major honors in acting (Sean Molicki, Ashley Diana, Rebecca Sosa, Joseph Walsh), directing (Gary Alana Powell and Danielle Cozzati) and ensemble.
With 11 total nominations, Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School also scored big in the balloting this year, garnering multiple nods for supporting actress Julia Mosby and director Suzanne Sweeney, both recognized for their work in the dramatic production of Miracle on 34th Street and the musical horror-comedy Young Frankenstein. The two RFH shows also saw nominations for best Overall Production in their categories.
Another strong showing was displayed by Red Bank Catholic High School, with a total of 10 nominations for the Neil Simon comedy Lost in Yonkers (lead actress Olivia Rauso, supporting actor John Gnazzo) and the musical adaptation of Shrek (lead actor Timothy DiDomenico, director Keith Gissubel).
Home to the highly regarded Visual and Performing Arts Academy, Red Bank Regional High School earned 8 Basie nominations for the musical Anything Goes (supporting actress Eliana Swartz), and for the William Shakespeare comedy Much Ado About Nothing (lead actor Patrick Monaghan, lead actress Katherine Kennedy, supporting actor Justin Giegerich, director Joseph Russo). Russo — retiring director of the drama program at RBR and a faculty member for more than 40 years — will be honored at the May 20 ceremony with the annual Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to “individuals who have dedicated their lives to making art happen and art that matters in our community.”
A recent addition to the Basie Awards program is the awarding of special scholarships, with the 7 pm ceremony featuring the announcement of the second annual Moser-Taboada Arts Impact Scholarship. Established by the Moser Toboada Law Firm of Shrewsbury, the $2500 scholarship is awarded yearly to one high school senior “whose life, academic, and career choice has been impacted by the arts.”
New for 2015 are two additional scholarships — the Monmouth Medical Center-Barnabas Health Arts Impact Scholarship, and the Monmouth County Freeholders’ Basie Scholarship for Continuing Education, awarded to a student attending a New Jersey-based college in the fall.
“Each year the audience gets bigger, the cheering louder, and the energy exuding from the audience is palpable even back stage,” says Yvonne Lamb-Scudiery, Director of the Count Basie Theatre’s Education department and Performing Arts Academy.
A complete rundown of the 2015 Basie Awards nominees can be seen here. Tickets for the 7 pm presentation ($20) are available here — and check back here for updates on the 2014 Basie Award winners in the days following the Wednesday night program.