By the time all the sparkle and suspense was over at the inaugural Dazzle Awards ceremony May 21 at Playhouse Square, three Akron-area musical theater students walked home with regional awards in recognition of their superior high school work.

Chief among them was Akron School for the Arts/Firestone High School sophomore Kate Klika, who won best actress in the Northeast Ohio contest for her portrayal of Ariel in The Little Mermaid. The awards capped off a program including the adjudication of shows produced by 19 participating Northeast Ohio schools as well as auditions by lead actors and actresses from each school before a panel of Northeast Ohio theater professionals in early April.

“This has been undoubtedly one of the most amazing weeks of my life,” an emotional Klika said while accepting her trophy at the Connor Palace.

She’ll go on to compete in New York on June 27 in the eighth annual National High School Musical Theatre Awards (NHSMTA), also known as the Jimmy Awards, at the Minskoff Theatre on Broadway. Joining her will be Solon High School freshman J.R. Heckman, who won best actor as Donkey in Shrek the Musical.

Playhouse Square awarded Klika and Heckman each $1,000 to help their families attend the ceremony in New York with them. On the Great White Way, they will compete against best actresses and actors from 31 other cities in a one-night showcase preceded by eight days of coaching and rehearsals.

“I am so proud of Kate. She worked so hard and she has such an amazing support system with her friends and her family and all these people that are here tonight,” said the actress’s father, Ken Klika of Akron. “All these people came together to help her do what she loves most.”

In New York, the grand prize-winning best actor and best actress will each receive $10,000 scholarships to further his or her education. The Jimmy Awards, named for Broadway impresario James Nederlander, recognize outstanding student achievement in vocal, dance, and acting performance and provide connections between promising young performers and the professional theater industry.

Northeast Ohio winners Klika and Heckman have a previous connection: In Akron, Klika and Heckman have performed together as Dorothy and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz at Weathervane Playhouse as well as in the theater’s Chanticleers show choir.

The Akron School for the Arts’ Joe Antal won best featured performer for his portrayal of Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid.

“It’s an incredible honor,” the junior said. “I’m kind of shell-shocked, to be honest.”

A total of four Akron School for the Arts Dazzle Award nominees, including Wyatt Dalbaugh as a best featured performer nominee and Gracie Thanasiu as a best supporting actress nominee, brought a contingency of friends, family members and teachers to the Playhouse Square ceremony. They included orchestra director Bernie Williams, whose Little Mermaid orchestra also was nominated for best student orchestra.

More than 170 students performed in a medley of opening and closing numbers, in best actress and best actor medleys, as well as in numbers from six schools nominated for best musical.

“It’s very exciting. I came in tonight just expecting our kids to look great on stage and it’s amazing for them to be singled out for their performances,” said Mark Zimmerman, theater director at Akron School for the Arts.

Recent Wadsworth High School graduate Larissa Richards won the best supporting actress award for her role as Vi Moore in Footloose.

“I was very shocked when it happened,” said Richards. “I just went in for the learning experience. I wasn’t really expecting an award.”

Richards, who will study music ministry and education at Malone University, enjoyed taking a vocal workshop and the five days of practice that nominees and select castmates went through last week to create the Tony Awards-style Dazzle Awards show in Cleveland. The live show was directed by Tony-nominated director and choreographer Dan Knechtges and hosted by Natalie Herbick and David Moss of Fox 8.

The other winners in the Dazzle Awards’ remaining nine categories are:

•?Best student orchestra: Solon High School, Shrek the Musical

•?Best scenic design: Solon High School, Shrek the Musical

•?Best technical execution: Hawken Upper School, Into the Woods

•?Best costume design: Willoughby High School, The Addams Family

•?Best choreography execution: CMSD All-City Arts Program, Kiss Me Kate

•?Best ensemble/chorus: CMSD All-City Arts Program, Kiss Me Kate

•?Best supporting actor: Shawn Hammel, Marion L. Steel High, Orin DDS in Little Shop of Horrors

•?Best musical tier 1, performance budget less than $10,000: Rocky River High School, Catch Me If You Can

•?Best musical tier 2, budget greater than $10,000, Solon High School, Shrek the Musical.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj or follow her on Twitter @KerryClawsonABJ.