Sunday, May 26, 2002

Teens heading for Hollywood

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer contributor

        MASON — Mason High School Senior Danielle Withers had planned to go to New York City this summer to see Broadway shows as a graduation trip.

        Instead, the 18-year-old will spend five weeks in Hollywood, where she will perform in four Broadway productions as part of the Hollywood Summer Stock National Youth Program.

        “I'm more excited than nervous,” said Miss Withers, who played Dorothy in Mason High's production of The Wiz. “I'll be surrounded by people who think like me.”

[photo] Danielle Withers (second from left) performs in The Wiz. Miss Withers and Michael Sherman received scholarships to perform in Hollywood.
(Mason High School photo)
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        Both Miss Withersand Michael Sherman, 17, a St. Xavier High School junior, received scholarships for the Hollywood program after being voted best lead actress and best lead actor in a musical at year-end award ceremonies for the Cappies — Critics and Awards Program. They will join other Cappies winners from across the country.

        “This is a tremendous opportunity for these students,” said Bill Strauss, founder of the Cappies national program and director of The Capitol Steps, a Washington-based satirical group. “It is a learning experience and also an apprenticeship for professional theater.”

        Earlier this year, the Midwest's first chapter of the Virginia-based organization was started in Greater Cincinnati by parents Susan Grubbs of Liberty Township and Marji Mendelsohn of Wyoming. Through Cappies, high school students review theatrical productions of 10 member schools.

        The first season ended Wednesday night at McAuley High School with an awards ceremony modeled after the Tony Awards. It included excerpts from the season's shows, and, with students in formal wear, winners were announced from nominees for 35 awards in performing and technical categories.

        Winning the award was a real surprise for Mr. Sherman, who said he considers himself more active in music than drama. He is a former member of the Cincinnati Boys Choir, had a small part in the opera Carmen, and is in St. Xavier's band.

        “I did not expect to get it. I've always been a singer, not an actor although I am taking some acting classes. I was so happy I won. I was shaking in my seat. I was stunned.”

        Being an actor, Mr. Sherman said, made him a better critic. When he reviews others schools' shows, he looks for things his drama teachers tell his class not to do.

        “Those are the things I really, really notice,” said Mr. Sherman of Anderson Township, who won his award for his portrayal of Benjy in My Favorite Year.

        Mr. Sherman said he likes getting — and giving — constructivecriticism through Cappies. But he admitted to being nervous before reading the reviews of his school's production by the Cappies critics.

        “I was hesitant,” he said. “At first, I thought they didn't like us — until I printed out the entire review.”

        This summer, Miss Withers also plans to provide voice instruction to others and take piano lessons before heading to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where she plans to major in music education and possibly musical performance, which includes theater.

        “Hopefully, my talents will flourish,” said Miss Withers, who is active in choruses at school and her church. During high school, she had roles in Man of La Mancha, Godspell and The King and I.

        Miss Withers said she tries make her portrayal of a character as natural as possible.

        “I want my audience to relate to me. I tried to do Dorothy like teen-agers everywhere. She was rebellious, she didn't always get along with her parents; she had bigger things to do and dreams to follow.”
        For a complete list of winners and other information on the Cappies program, see

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