For another year, students from all three Plano senior high schools – Plano East, Plano West and Plano Senior High – all received nominations for the seventh annual Dallas Summer Musicals High School Musical Theatre Awards. After months of prepping and performing, a DSM nomination caps off an already successful show season.
This year, Plano East walked away with 10 nominations, including Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Choreography and more. Junior Aaron Starkweather earned a first-time Best Supporting Actor nomination for portraying Roger, the tortured yet talented musician, in the musical “Rent.”
“I was blown away,” he said, when he heard of his nomination. “It was just amazing.”
Starkweather first took to the stage at McMillen High School in a production of “Footloose,” he said, “and ever since then, I’ve just been in love with theater.”
He saw the nomination as an honor, especially since DSM judges visit productions all across the Metroplex, and out of all of those musicals and actors, only 10 actors are selected as the best of the best.
Also among the PESH nominees was first-time actor junior Ruth Mbugua, who was nominated for Best Actress. The theater newbie performed a 30-second solo in the opening number, “Seasons of Love,” and though her time onstage was short, the impact was anything but. Theater director Gavin Munday recalled Mbugua’s audition, a suggestion from PESH choir director Daniel Knight, and how jaws dropped when she sang.
“If you hear her voice, she has enormous ability,” Mundy said. “Ruth has by far the most soulful voice of anyone who’s been here in at least the last five years.”
Mbugua said her musical inspirations were gospel singers like Tamela Mann, Yolanda Adams and soul singers like Nina Simone. Despite the praise she’s received, Mbugua credits her powerhouse voice to her Creator.
“I’m very thankful that God picked me and that he allows me to have that voice so I can sing,” she said.
Junior Rama Vangils and seniors Alex Witt and Carlos Lopez receive nominations for Best Lighting, Best Set Design and Best Costuming, respectively.Kelsey Samuels/Staff Photo
At Plano West, several members of the crew received nominations for their work on the production, “Into the Woods,” alongside several honorable mentions for Best Direction and Best Musical Production. Junior Rama Vangils and seniors Alex Witt and Carlos Lopez received nominations for Best Lighting, Best Set Design and Best Costuming, respectively. Behind the scenes, these three put in long hours through the production process to show actors in their best light. Witt’s set design included three 40-foot trees, complemented by Vangils' thoughtful lighting choices and Lopez’s handmade costume creations to take the show to the next level.
In the midst of the long hours, Vangils said it may seem overwhelming and that the work isn't appreciated.
"But after the fact, when you get nominated like this, it feels really good.”