June 17 2016 07:49 AM

Sutton Foster Ovation Awards honors top high school theater talent


FRIDAY, June 17 — Last weekend, a group Michigan’s finest young singers and actors gathered for a two-day competition. Saturday, 36 high school theater students arrived to showcase their talents on the Wharton Center stage in front of an audience and panel of Broadway judges. By Sunday, the group of 36 had been whittled down to six finalists, then two winners.

The students were competing for the Sutton Foster Ovation Awards, recently renamed to honor Michigan native and Broadway star Sutton Foster. The event ceremony, now in its fifth year, was created to honor Michigan high school students for their achievements in theater. This year’s winners are Stacy Coleman from Rockford High School and Logan Dolence from Zeeland East High School.

According to the, Ouellette, who organized the event, the competition fostered a lot of teamwork from the students.

“All of the students were very focused, all in it to win it,” said Kris Ouellette, associate director of education at the MSU Federal Credit Union Institute for Arts & Creativity at Wharton Center. “But they were all in it for each other. From the moment they met each other, there was totally a feeling of competing with, as opposed to against.”

Winners of the Sutton Foster Ovation Awards are sent on an all-expenses-paid trip to the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in New York. Winners also receive a scholarship to Wharton Center’s summer Broadway workshop, Take It From The Top, and $1,000 cash.

This year, the ceremony awarded the first-ever Greg Reuter Excellence in Musical Theatre Education Award, which honors a Michigan educator in theater arts. Frank Gollon of Rochester High School received the award.

“Theatre ties into life skills, and that’s why Frank Gollon was selected,” Ouellette said. “He served as director and scenic designer,” He would sub in for missing students at rehearsal, and he was there for the students.”

The awards committee received so many nominations that it is considering expanding the category next year.

“Everyone is willing to support students — financially, emotionally, etc. — but we also need to make sure we are taking care of our educators,” Ouellette said. “We sought educators to be nominated who helped improve the life of the students involved in their productions. That is the greatest achievement of this year.”