By MIKE CHAIKEN
One performer is ready to keep on moving up the talent ladder at St. Paul Catholic High School. And another one is excited to be leaving on a high note as she heads out into the wide wide world.
Dana Wilton, a senior, and Tessa Coleman, a sophomore, both won awards at the annual Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards held at The Palace Theater in Waterbury on June 6. Both students won for their efforts in the school’s production of the previously little seen musical, “Rags.”
Dana, who portrayed the character Bella, won Best Supporting Actress in a Musical. Tessa, who portrayed the character Rachel in “Rags,” won Outstanding Feature Performer in a Musical.
To win the award in her last ever performance at St. Paul, Dana said, “It was an amazing way to go out.”
To be a sophomore and win the award, Tessa said, “It feels great.” And although she now has this honor to her credit, she said she’s not ready to sit back and rest on her laurels. “I want to work toward more roles. I want a bigger role,” said Tessa.
“Rags” tells the tale of the women and men who emigrated from the Old World who worked – and were exploited— in the New York sweatshops of the last century.
Of her character, Dana said, “Musically I really enjoyed her (vocal) range so it got to show my lower register, my upper register, and my belt, which I really enjoyed being able to show I had.” She also liked that “It’s technically a real character because real women died in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire. Real women faced discrimination because of their religion or race and I feel like it’s really important that my character portrayed that hardship women— and kids and men— went through.”
Tessa said she liked her character because it served as comic relief in the story of a serious historical moment. She also enjoyed the music because it allowed her to step out of her typical role and allowed her to prove her “belting” voice as a singer.
“This was one of my biggest roles I have ever had,” said Tessa, a Southington resident. “I never had a lead before. So it stretched me in that sense.”
Also, said Tessa, “It was a lot of work… we spent a lot of hours on our scene… It stretched me as a performer since I never worked so hard to get a role to this level of perfection.”
Dana, a Torrington resident, said, “‘Bella’ is an emotionally challenging role because she goes through so much. She goes through having to emigrate from Russia to America. She’s very hopeful for America but slowly she gets a twinge of what might not be true about her dream. So slowly she gets sadder and sadder and more desperate for her dream… I’m on a very big emotional roller coaster… I really enjoyed being challenged like that.”
After all of the hard work, being nominated “felt incredible… especially with these kinds of characters,” said Dana. “At St. Paul, we work… forever on these characters. And you put your heart and soul into this one human being you become for a few hours in front of a bunch of people. For someone to notice how much you love the character you have become really means a lot.”
“It really, really felt amazing (to be nominated) because at St. Paul we do put in hours, days and days, and months and months of work,” said Tessa. “To be recognized and even nominated… it’s just amazing…It’s really an honor.”
On the night of the awards presentation, Tessa said her mind wasn’t on winning. Instead, she only thought of her admiration for her fellow nominees in her category. “They are very talented.”
“When they were announcing… I was sitting there and feeling if someone else won I’d be fine. I was excited for the winner,” said Tessa.
And when they did announce her name, said Tessa, “It was actually a surprise.”
Dana almost missed her category’s announcement because she was otherwise engaged.
Dana explained she performed in the opening number for the awards show and she was changing out of her costume when they started announcing her category. Some of the other nominees came out to get her and told her to get upstairs to the stage ASAP.
Since all of the nominees were so talented, Dana said she didn’t think she would win. And standing off at the side of the stage after the opening number, Dana said she felt a little odd especially if she didn’t win. “But, it’s all right,” Dana told herself.
“Then my name was called and I freaked out,” said Dana, who will be studying musical theater at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee School of Music in the fall. “It was an amazing feeling.”