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‘IN THE HEIGHTS’ | Montour musical performers shine at Gene Kelly Awards

Members of the 2023 Montour musical cast and crew for “In the Heights” prepare to take a bow during a performance at Montour High School. Three members of this cast were honored to be invited to perform during the 2023 Gene Kelly Awards show at the Benedum.
“The amount of amazing talent that has performed on that stage is crazy to think about, and knowing that I joined that list makes this performance so special.”

– Luke Rossetti, Montour finale performer at the 2023 Gene Kelly Awards

By Antonio Rosetti

As part of the 2023 Gene Kelly Awards, three Montour musical students performed at the Benedum, joining the ranks of such past luminaries as David Bowie, Duke Ellington and Bob Marley who’ve also tread the stage.

Sophomore Ava Stropkaj made her way back for the second straight year as a semifinalist and junior Charlie McMahon and senior Luke Rossetti were finale participants at the award show, which congratulates excellence in high school musical theater.

“They just put themselves out there, and you could tell they're enjoying themselves,” Montour Director Josh Morgan said, adding how impressive it was for students to perform in front of a sold-out crowd of close to 3,000 people.

Montour performed “In the Heights” this year and Stropkaj, who played Nina, was awed by the size of the crowd and the stage at the Benedum. The center stage is 78 feet deep, 144 feet wide, and 82 feet high.

“I've seen so many shows at the Benedum and seen so many tours when I'm watching in the audience, it doesn't look that big, but when you're on the stage, it's insane,” Stropkaj said.

McMahon, who played Usnavi, got his first opportunity at performing at the Benedum Center during the awards show.

“Having the chance to be there alongside so many other theater lovers was just a treat, and performing for countless amounts of people was a dream come true,” McMahon said.

At the beginning of the show, the noise of the theater grew when the semi-finalists and nominees took the stage.

“They always tell us when you're out there, you might not see everyone, but you can definitely hear everyone and that was definitely the case,” Stropkaj said.

Rossetti, who played Benny, was starstruck by the amount of talent and the Benedum Center as a whole.

“The amount of amazing talent that has performed on that stage is crazy to think about, and knowing that I joined that list makes this performance so special,” Rossetti said.

The three Montour performers enjoyed their time working with all the schools that participated in the Gene Kelly Awards, but the joy of working with their cast and crew for “In the Heights” was what made the awards possible. Stropkaj learned from directors that school sports teams go out on a field and they compete and battle against each other, while musical performers come together in song and dance.

“It changed me so much,” Stropkaj said.

Rossetti added that the chemistry was what made the show so enjoyable to perform.

“I feel like the main leads and the cast had a very good bond,” Rossetti said.

McMahon echoed a similar sentiment.

“I’ve grown with all of these people,” McMahon said. “Having those many rehearsals with them really made me fall in love with every single person.”

Stropkaj, Rossetti, and McMahon were all happy to work with director Josh Morgan and his wife, choreographer Brittany Morgan, vocal coach and music director Lindsay Bosco and Corissa Robb.

“They were just incredible role models, and they're just incredible at their job,” Stropkaj said.

Josh Morgan doesn’t take for granted working with the performers. He is also the middle school director and he works with the students from grades 7 to 12. He said that seeing them grow in their talents is a privilege.

“This is the most challenging show we've done and they just handled it so extremely well,” Morgan said.



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