Eight area high schools are being honored by the Hennepin Theatre Trust for excellence in their fall musical theater productions.

Awards will be presented during a two-night showcase at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis on June 8-9.

The Washington County area schools are among 67 high schools across the state that participate in the trust's SpotLight Musical Theatre Program, which gives students a chance to work with local and national theater educators and Broadway professionals.

"SpotLight has made a huge difference in our infant theater program," Amanda Hestwood, musical director at East Ridge High School in Woodbury, said in a statement on the SpotLight website. "Our involvement has helped us engage our community, shore up support for our program and excite our audiences."

During the fall, 38 musicals were assessed by a group of evaluators who then nominated individual performances as well as productions as a whole. Highest honors include outstanding performance in leading, supporting and featured roles; outstanding performance by a chorus, dance ensemble and student orchestra, and outstanding overall production and outstanding overall performance in a musical.

Musicals are judged without comparing or ranking them against one another.

Three area schools — East Ridge, White Bear Lake Area High School and New Life Academy in Woodbury — were deemed outstanding in both the overall production and overall performance categories.

East Ridge presented Elton John and Tim Rice's "Aida," and had three students — Naomi Ridley, Katherine Spicuzza and Luke Syrstad — recognized for outstanding performance in a leading role. A fourth, Brendan Finn, was honored for outstanding performance in a supporting role.

New Life Academy staged "Fiddler on the Roof," and saw Erik Holmquist honored for outstanding performance in a leading role.

White Bear Lake Area High presented "Once Upon a Mattress," and secured honors not only for outstanding production and overall performance, but also outstanding performance by a student orchestra. Individual honors for outstanding performances went to Maddy McLevish-Hughes in a leading role and Alex Carney and Eddie Green in supporting roles.

In a news release announcing the honorees, White Bear Lake theater director Wendy Souja said that while art is subjective, the SpotLight program sets a concrete bar for students that "taps into their desire to do better."

Other area schools that won honorable mentions for the quality of their fall musicals include Forest Lake Area Senior High for "A Year With Frog and Toad"; Hill-Murray School for "Little Shop of Horrors"; Tartan High for "Footloose," and Woodbury High and North High in North St. Paul — both for "Guys and Dolls."

The June 8-9 awards showcase will be the program's ninth annual event and the first to be presented over two nights. Last year's event was a sellout with more than 1,200 students performing, the Hennepin Theatre Trust said.

Tickets are scheduled to go on sale Feb. 14.


Students launch effort to aid St. Paul families

Sixth-grade students at Woodbury Middle School teamed with YWCA St. Paul to provide winter wear and blankets to low-income youths, the South Washington County School District said in a news release.

The students collected hats and mittens, and raised $105.

The district said that the students also received a grant from the district's community education program that allowed them to buy fleece and to make 62 blankets for distribution to needy families.

Anthony Lonetree