JEFFERSON HILLS, Pa.; May 27, 2024 – Thomas Jefferson High School's production of "Beauty and the Beast" won five awards at the 33rd Annual Pittsburgh CLO Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musical Theater. The event was held Saturday night at the Benedum Center.

For the second time in three years, Thomas Jefferson's musical theater students earned Best Musical honors in their budget category. TJ and Woodland Hills' Wonderland Pilot Production were the two finalists in Budget Category IV, the highest category. In 2022, TJ's "Legally Blonde" earned Best Musical, the first time the school had earned the top honor.

In addition to Best Musical, Beauty and the Beast also won Best Vocal Ensemble and Best Crew/Technical Execution for the third consecutive year in its budget category. Thomas Jefferson also won Best Lighting Design, an area that included senior Brady Bandik, who was selected the Outstanding Student Artist among the six finalists from all participating schools.

Another TJ senior, Julie Evanchak, was the recipient of the Christopher Rawson Kelly Critics Award and spoke at Saturday's night's ceremony.

Thomas Jefferson's Beauty and the Beast was nominated in all eight Gene Kelly Awards ensemble categories for the second consecutive year, led by Best Musical.

In the acting categories, TJ's Olivia Virgin was selected a Gene Kelly Awards finalist for Best Actress and Kayleigh Johnson was named a finalist for Best Supporting Actress. Johnson was a Best Actress semifinalist in 2023. Aidan Oeler was a 2024 semifinalist in the Best Actor category and Eli Fisher was a semifinalist in the Best Supporting Actor category. There were six overall nominees in each of the acting categories

Members of "Beauty and the Beast" cast performed "Be Our Guest" during the Gene Kelly Awards, named for the legendary performer, who was a Pittsburgh native.

Beauty and the Beast was directed by Jim Benedek, who teaches Technology Education at TJ. Julie Tipton, a TJ English and theater educator, was the assistant director and Michele Stoicovy, who teaches family and consumer science at TJ, coordinated costume design. Thomas Jefferson music educators Julie Lucci (vocal director) and Jim Mirabella (orchestra pit director) also were members of the musical production team. Additional members of the Beauty and the Beast team include: Louis Smolenski (lighting director), Dave Herrington (sound director), Alana Wieclaw (dance choreographer), Jennifer Allan (business operations/publicity) and Renae Benedek.

In 2023, Thomas Jefferson's production of "Anything Goes," earned three Gene Kelly Awards and was one of two finalists for Best Musical in Budget Level IV. Ashley Caldwell was named Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Erma. For the second consecutive year, TJ's musical theater students captured Best Vocal Ensemble and Best Crew/Technical Execution in its budget level, moving up to Budget Level IV in 2023.

Two years ago, TJ's production of "Legally Blonde: The Musical," collected five Gene Kelly Awards, including its first Best Musical honor. Legally Blonde also won Best Scenic Design, Best Vocal Ensemble, Best Dance Ensemble and Best Crew/Technical Execution in its budget level.

The Gene Kelly Awards are presented by the Pittsburgh CLO and Michael J. Kara Family, with additional support from The Gismondi Family Foundation, Deloitte, Point Park University, PNC Bank, Highmark, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust and the CLO Ambassadors.

Thomas Jefferson is the high school that serves the West Jefferson Hills SD community.

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