There have only been four awards given at the 2021 Gene Kelly Awards this year and a high school student from Plum Senior High School brought one home.
Ellie Tongel won the award for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Logainne “Schwarzy” SchwartzandGrubenierre in the school production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”.
Tongel becomes the first student in PHS history to win Best Actor / Actress or Best Supporting Actor / Actress at the Gene Kelly Awards. His victory is also the first time that a PHS musical has won a Gene Kelly Award since “Shrek the Musical” won the awards for Best Flash Design, Best Costume Design, and Best Musical in Budget Category II. in 2015.
“Honestly, I still can’t figure it out,” Tongel said. “It’s just surreal. I met all the other girls that were nominated and they were all so talented. And the price is so appreciated, so I just went in for more experience. Finally, watching it live and posting my name, I was in shock.
“I would love to say that I played a huge role in it, but my style is to find the best and let them take ownership of their roles,” said director Nick Mitchell. “We have a large talent pool at Plum and over the seven years I have been here, I have learned that I can trust students to make solid choices. “
The musical pits six teenagers against each other in the titular spelling. All six are considered outcasts, with unique traits of their own personalities and backgrounds. The spelling contest is run by three adults, each with their own backgrounds. Logainne, spoiler alert, came third in the competition when she misspelled the word “vug”.
Besides speaking softly and being politically aware for a college student, Logainne is the daughter of two gay fathers. In the production of PHS, this was changed for two mothers due to the fact that the cast had more daughters than boys.
“It’s pretty crazy,” Tongel said of the musical. ” It is a comedy. And that’s a spelling contest, that’s basically all it is.
“We chose the musical specifically because it has a lot of elements of inclusion,” Mitchell said. “To my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve had a same-sex couple on stage. If a student in the student body saw that and said, “Oh my God, it’s me,” we’re all in the performance on this stage. “
The victory places Tongel in a unique group of past winners that includes Emmy-nominated actor Zachary Quinto, among others. Quinto, who has appeared in TV shows like “Heroes” and “American Horror Story” and the most recent Star Trek movies. He won the Gene Kelly Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1994 for his role as Major-General Stanley in the Central Catholic production of “The Pirates of the Penzance.”
Despite the history associated with the award, acting is not Tongel’s career of choice. She hopes to continue playing in college, but plans to major in law or business.
“I’m looking to continue (play but) not as a major,” Tongel said. “The colleges I’m looking at are for the surrounding area, like New York. I will audition professionally.
“I have made it clear that I will support any student who chooses to show up for the individual awards,” Mitchell said. “And I know how fierce a competitor Ellie is, so I had little doubt that she would be one of those. I think there were several performances in this room that would have been recognized. I am exceptionally happy that she filmed herself and that she got the recognition she deserved.
Tongel received the award over the summer, but was not honored by Plum until the October 12 school board meeting where she received her trophy.
Tongel’s Best Supporting Actress award beat out four other nominees from across the Pittsburgh area. Elaine Gombos (Shady Side Academy), Isabella Gricar (Westinghouse Arts Academy), Katarina Hudock (Pine-Richland), Leah McConnell (Hampton) and Jay Puff (Baldwin) were the other nominees in the category. Desmon Jackson (Woodland Hills), Tyler Guinto-Brody (Elizabeth Forward) and Audrey Logan (South Fayette) received the awards for Best Supporting Actor, Best Actor and Best Actress respectively.
Logan Carney is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.