DALLAS — At 4-foot-9, Dakota Ratliff said, “I love being short.
“It doesn’t limit me onstage, and I like surprising people.”
The 17-year-old Ryan High School senior with the big voice certainly delighted the crowd Tuesday night at Dallas’ Fair Park Music Hall by winning best actress for her touching turn as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors. Dallas Summer Musicals was presenting its second annual High School Musical Theatre Awards.
Cameron Wenrich, 18, looked surprised, too, after the senior at Plano Senior High won best actor for his suave performance as Frank in his school’s Curtains.
“I was not expecting this whatsoever,” said Wenrich, who at 11 p.m. after the show seemed in no rush to go rest for the AP calculus test he was facing early next morning.
“After I got over the initial shock, I couldn’t be more grateful and happy.”
Forty-eight schools in 10 North Texas counties competed in 15 categories this year, with a panel of three judges from a larger pool evaluating each school’s performance. Forty-four of those judges viewed performances by the best actor and actress nominees the day before the ceremony to select those winners, whose names were kept secret until the event.
As best actor and actress, Ratliff and Wenrich each will receive a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip to New York City this summer to study with professionals and compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (known as the Jimmy Awards) at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre on July 1.
Seven other students won $4,000 scholarships, including Chance Steward from Guyer High School.
Denton High School earned the award for best lighting design with its production of A Christmas Carol.
McKinney North High School dominated early with wins for 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, picking up awards for best supporting actor (Baxter Pitt) and actress (Kaitlynn Loper), best ensemble and costume. The Charles H. Pistor best musical award went to Plano Senior High School, which won three awards in all, including best crew and technical execution. Two awards went to Waxahachie High School for Kiss Me, Kate.
Helmed by executive director Tracy Jordan, the evening shined with exquisitely planned details, beginning with the teens arriving in glittering gowns and smart suits, with just an occasional flash of braces. Many were chauffeured to the entrance in vintage cars for a walk on the red carpet into the theater, which was decked out with theater posters and set pieces that honored each participating school.
What unfolded proved a celebration of talent as a live orchestra and professional lighting supported student medleys professionally directed by Broadway and television veteran Michael Moricz and choreographed and staged by Broadway performer Michael B. Tapley.