THE SPONGEBOB MUSICAL earned multiple nominations for Sondheim Awards through an anonymous adjudication process during the Masquers’ two-weekend run of the show in December. This weekend, following multiple masterclasses in Connecticut, the NRHS cast and crew will attend a gala at which the winners will be announced. (Dan Mills Photo)



Published May 16, 2024


NRHS Performing Arts intern

NORTH READING — The Stephen Sondheim Awards is the regional program associated with the National High School Musical Theater Awards and was formed to connect, cultivate, and celebrate high school musical theatre students and educators across Connecticut and Massachusetts. Throughout the year, the Stephen Sondheim Awards offers educational opportunities and individualized feedback to help schools grow their theatre programs year after year. This regional program culminates in a Tony Awards-style gala that honors outstanding productions, performances, and participation. It provides the opportunity for students and educators to come together as a community to celebrate creative excellence in high school musical theatre.


In the fall, schools from Massachusetts and Connecticut can sign up to be a part of an adjudicated track. There are over 50 tracks across the United States from Hawaii to Texas that participate and more are being formed every year. The Sondheims sent a team of performing arts educators, entertainment professionals, and Broadway performers and designers from New York City to attend productions to eligible high schools from October through April; “Spongebob” was adjudicated back in December.

These professionals attended anonymously and adjudicated multiple performances over the North Reading High School Masquers two-weekend run, using an industry-standardized rubric to base their opinions. The judges kept their comments and nominations to themselves these past few months and continued to travel to schools across Massachusetts and Connecticut, culminating in a final meeting on April 27 where all of the adjudicators discussed and reviewed highlights from each high school performance and decided upon the nominations.

Schools that score the highest in each category are nominated. The written feedback will be shared with the cast and crew upon completion of the awards season in late May, but the scores are never made public.


On Monday, April 29 at 3 p.m. the Sondheim’s lined up Courtney Reed, a professional actress who is currently performing in “Moulin Rouge” on Broadway, and who has also performed in “Mama Mia” and as Jasmine in the original Broadway production of “Aladdin,” to name a few, to announce the nominations. As soon as the bell rang, members of the cast and crew met in the media center at North Reading High School, waiting with bated breath for the announcement to start. Due to some technical difficulties Ms. Reed was having with her computer and Facebook livestream, they moved the announcements to Instagram and a hush fell over the crowd of students. One after another the categories were presented and North Reading’s name was a constant throughout.

Nominations received for “The Spongebob Musical” were

  • Best Actor Nominees: Seniors Dylan Mills (Spongebob) and Brian Conlon (Patrick)
  • Best Actress Nominee: Alivia Rowe (Junior)
  • Best Supporting Actress: Sophie Donovan (Senior) for role of Karen the Computer
  • Best Costume Design: Piper Kirwin (Senior)
  • Best Set Design: Seniors: James Dillon, Piper Kirwin, Danika Reid; Juniors: Adriana  Gonzales, Marshall Murray, Sofia Naulivou, Daniela Voisinet; Sophomores: Matt Capalbo,  Stevie Schomp
  • Best Lighting Design: Daniela Voisinet (Junior)
  • Best Sound Design: Sofia Naulivou (Junior)
  • Best Choreography: Ms. Chrissy Bowman
  • Best Direction: Mrs. Allison Kane
  • Best Ensemble: Entire Cast
  • Best Overall Musical

Each category has approximately eight slots for nominations although occasionally some end up with more or less.


For the Sondheim awards, students, cast and crew alike have the option to participate in multiple masterclasses and workshops presented throughout the year including how to be a stage manager, acting techniques, and marketing yourself. But now that the nominations have happened, Mrs. Allison Kane, our director and producer, puts together the different itineraries for students including transportation, housing, master classes and workshops, rehearsals, edits the orchestrations from a production number from “Spongebob” to fit the time limit allotted for performance, and helps the students find and fix up costumes and props. Kane put together a rehearsal schedule for the cast to rework their performance number before they travel this week to the event.

The entire group will travel to Sacred Heart University in Connecticut early Friday morning May 17 for final “Spongebob” rehearsal and masterclasses.  Classes include vocal auditions, where students prepare a song ahead of time and are able to perform it in front of an industry professional from New York City and receive feedback in an informal and supportive environment; scene partner and acting classes, where students prepare monologues and short partner scenes for feedback; and dance and movement classes with a Broadway choreographer and a talkback with other industry professionals.


Best Actor and Best Actress nominees participate in a multi-day boot camp where they work with the Stephen Sondheim Awards team members and special guest artists from New York City. Brian, Dylan and Alivia prepared multiple songs and a dance routine prior to traveling on Monday, May 13 with Mrs. Kane to the Black Rock Theater in Connecticut for a week-long boot camp.

During the week of May 13-17 the three nominees will be assigned a professional vocal coach to work on their songs and teach them new songs which they must learn quickly. A choreographer will work on two specialized medleys featuring all the nominees. On Thursday, Alivia, Dylan, and Brian, along with the other nominated students will perform their songs, the dance routine, and their learned medleys in front of a panel of judges. That night, those judges will choose one actor and one actress to represent the Sondheims in New York City. But they won’t reveal the outcome until the end of the gala Saturday night.



The gala is patterned after the Tony Awards as celebrating excellence in high school musical theatre. The Black Tie Gala features performances by students all night long and features the nominated best musicals. The hosts are industry professionals that come up from New York and there are always special guest appearances.

On Friday, May 17, seniors James Dillon and Sophie Donovan will work on the opening and closing numbers of the gala. The music was sent to them ahead of time to prepare and they have mere hours to put together the movement, fine tune their vocals and get it ready to perform.

Senior Piper Kirwin and junior Sofia Naulivou have been chosen to work backstage running the rehearsal on Friday and the show on Saturday getting first-hand experience working the career path they both want to follow. The ceremony aims to feature, highlight, and give opportunities to as many students from the participating schools as possible. There will be student reporters, student videographers, student orchestra members, student-run crew, student stage managers and student performers working side by side with the professionals in their field.

All of these positions were earned through preparation and work, and all of them had to be submitted or earned by audition. Winners of the Best Actress and Best Actor Awards category will attend the National High School Musical Theatre Awards (The Jimmy Awards) in NYC June 14 through June 25.


There is nothing like performing for and learning from other high schools and professionals around the Northeast. We feel so honored to have made it back to the finals a second time; we were nominated for 10 awards last year and won last year for “Pippin,” and humbled that our program and our production of “The Spongebob Musical” has been acknowledged on a national level.