Wantagh students win Roger Rees Awards for theater performances


A captivating theater performance of “Jekyll and Hyde” earned two students from Wantagh High School’s Drama Club high marks in the 14th Annual Roger Rees Awards in May.

Ashlee Fucarino, a junior, received the Outstanding Female Performer Award for her role as Lucy Harris in the drama club’s April performances of the famous gothic tale of Dr. Jekyll, a respected scientist who develops a potion that transforms him into the malevolent Mr. Hyde. Fucarino’s character, Lucy, is a singer at a seedy London bar who becomes the love interest of Mr. Hyde.

For Fucarino, winning the award was a surreal moment.

“It didn't feel real, and it didn't set in for like a week,” Fucarino said of her win. “I'm still processing it.”

Anthony Lerro, a senior, received the Emerging Artist Award, the runner-up for Outstanding Male Performer, for his dual role as the title characters of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He said his goal was to become one of 12 students to become finalists, but he did not expect to come away with one of the top four awards.

“It is really cool,” Lerro said, “because I don't think any school has ever had two winners in the core group of winners, so it's pretty big for Wantagh. We kind of cleaned up a little bit.”

The Roger Rees Awards honor excellence in high school musical theater in the New York City area by recognizing outstanding student performances. The awards are named after the famed Welsh actor, Roger Rees, who was known for his stage work before his death in 2015. This year’s ceremony took place from May 17-19 at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, where Lerro and Fucarino reprised their characters’ roles for one last song.

According to Lerro, judges for the awards ceremony arrived at their shows to grade their performances, and students with high marks moved onto the nominee selection, where they auditioned for a panel of judges to decide whether they moved onto the actual competition as the top 50. Students at the three-day-long competition performed workshops with Broadway professionals, who determined the 12 finalists.

The finalists performed a solo song from their musicals. Fucarino performed “A New Life,” a song about her character’s declaration to escape her troubled past and start fresh. Fucarino said she connected with that song because it dealt with her character yearning for a better life, a relatable feeling for many.  

“As humans, we’re always wanting more,” Fucarino said, “and I think that's something that a lot of people can resonate with.”

Lerro sang “This is the moment,” a song in which Dr. Jekyll expresses his determination and resolve as he prepares to test his serum transforming him into the mischievous Mr. Hyde. Lerro described it as a grand musical number, and one that was emotional for his mother to see him perform live throughout the four shows he did in April.

“It's kind of like this one massive outpouring of pride and love,” Lerro said of the song. “All four shows (my mom) was crying, and so watching it one more time on that stage in that situation, I kind of knew what that would do for her. So that was part of my motivation in getting to the finals.”

For winning the Outstanding Female Performer Award, Fucarino will move onto the National High School Musical Theatre Awards, also known as the Jimmy Awards, on June 24 at Broadway’s Minskoff Theatre. The opportunity to attend the prestigious event has been a dream for her since fifth grade.

Fucarino said she was raised in a musical family, noting that her mother grew up performing in theater. At age 7, Fucarino started theater at St. Francis De Chantal Roman Catholic Church in Wantagh, before moving onto theater performances at Wantagh Middle School. She recalled the moment she knew theater was her calling — when she broke her leg two months before she was supposed to perform in the sixth-grade production of “Shrek: The Musical.”

“I had crutches and I had to sit out of rehearsals,” Fucarino said. “One night I came home crying to my mom, because it hurt so bad to have to sit there and watch everybody do the thing that I knew that I loved, and not be able to do it myself. That was kind of where I realized, ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”

After graduating from high school, Fucarino said she plans to enroll in a Bachelor of Fine Arts program for musical theater.

Lerro said he initially did not plan to major in theater, but after his win at the Roger Rees Awards, he added that his career path could change.

“If I have to be completely honest, I could flip any day,” Lerro said. “I really don't know at this point. I was pretty set on business school, and then this weekend happened, and who knows? I really couldn't tell you.”

Kimberly Davis, the drama club director, said she is proud of the two students’ accomplishments in musical theater. The win does not come as a surprise, Davis added, because she has seen how talented they’ve been since middle school theater, and have overcome challenges during the pandemic, such as performing with masks and remotely.

“I don't think I've ever had students that have put in so much work, take their notes and really be perfectionists at what they do,” Davis said. “They exceeded our expectations, and they've overcome a lot over the years.”