WESTFIELD, NJ — Westfield High School students who performed in the school’s spring musical production of “Sweet Charity” attended the Paper Mill Playhouse Rising Star Awards last week. 

The Dance Hall Girls (Katie Ceraso, Emma Herber, Abbie Painter, Lily Paone, Liz Rosenberg, Julia Salvato, Elisa Saint-Denis, Alexandra Sica and McKenzie Waddell) took home the award for Outstanding Featured Ensemble Group.

Members of the cast were nominated for two other awards:

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Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role: Nicole Player, Charity Hope Valentine

Outstanding Performance by a Featured Ensemble Member: Sean Marner, Big Daddy Brubeck

Teacher/director Daniel Devlin took home an Honorable Mention for Outstanding Achievement by a Teacher or Outside Director. Samantha Hahn-Simpson got an Honorable Mention for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography and Staging.

The Rising Stars encourage and reward exceptional accomplishments in the production of high school musical theater in New Jersey.

“What’s special about these awards is they celebrate the theater students in public schools who are, in a way, working double time,” said WHS senior Nicole Player, who was nominated for her role as Charity Hope Valentine in “Sweet Charity.” She continued, “My day starts at rehearsal, after a full day of academics.”

“We were all really excited to be nominated and humbled to win,” said WHS junior Elisa Saint-Denis, who played Nickie in the Dance Hall Girls ensemble.

“We did a lot of character background work and it was nice to be recognized. We couldn’t have done it without Mr. Devlin, who gave us the freedom to develop our characters,” Saint-Denis said.

She also gave a nod to the show’s choreographer, Samantha Hahn-Simpson.

“Fosse choreography is a specific way of moving, but Sam helped us to make it our own,” Saint-Denis said.

Nicole Player, who will be pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theater at Boston Conservatory in the fall, discussed the hard work involved with playing the lead character in a show like “Sweet Charity.”

“I was going through the college audition process at the same time as rehearsals, and I was concerned about being able to balance everything. I’m not an experienced dancer, so Charity was a difficult role for me, but playing her was a great self-discovery process for me,” said Player, who also received a Rising Star nomination in 2018 for her featured role in “Follies” at Westfield High School.

“Mr. Devlin reminds us that our performances are never for the awards,” she continued. “But it’s nice to get the recognition.”

The lead role nominees from across the state performed at the awards ceremony.

“It was amazing to be in a space with other artists who are all as passionate as I am. I was really just honored to be there, bonding with the other girls backstage over our shared experiences,” Player said.

WHS sophomore Sean Marner was nominated for his featured role as Big Daddy Brubeck in “Sweet Charity.”

“It was probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a role,” said Marner. “It was incredible to be nominated. Honestly, it was so great to get to get to the Rising Stars and be there with show friends. Everyone put a lot of time and energy into the show, and it was a great experience.”

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