The Laguna Beach High School production of "Into the Woods" and one of its stars won top honors Sunday at the 42nd annual Childress M.A.C.Y. Awards, held for the first time at Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa.
"Into the Woods" was honored with the "Performance of the Day" award, and Elan "E.J." Kramer, who played the Baker in the show, was presented with a trophy for the Best Performance by an Actor and a trip to New York to participate in the National High School Musical Theater Awards, a week-long competition at Broadway's Minskoff Theatre.
"My first thought was: Did they make a mistake?" Kramer said on Wednesday. "Once I go to New York, it will probably hit me."
Kramer is the first-ever Laguna Beach student chosen for a best performance award, according to Sande St. John of Laguna Beach.
St. John is member of the board of Childress Music and Arts Commendation for Youth Awards, better known as M.A.C.Y. The awards are credited as the Oscars of high school musicals, or as Master of Ceremonies George Pennacchio of ABC7 Eyewitness News put it "The CIF of musicals."
Board Treasurer Connie Burlin of Laguna announced that 617 awards were presented Sunday, and a total of 19,000 since the awards were founded by Lee and the late John Childress.
"This is your day," said the 95-year-old-old Lee Childress, described by attorney Larry Nokes as a force of nature.
"Into the Woods" also was awarded the Teatro del Arte Award, and cast members Makenna Zur Schmiede (Witch), Sarah Busic (Little Red), Chandler Davis (Baker's Wife) and Kramer received Highest Achievement Awards.
Outstanding Achievement Awards went to cast members Cassie Castro, who played Cinderella, and her Prince, played by Jackson Tupy.
Cast members of the high school's production of "Sound of Music" also were honored. Davis, who played Maria, and Haley Castuera, who played the Mother Abbess, won Highest Achievement Awards.
Outstanding Achievement Awards went to Nicolas Leighton, Rolf in the show, Tupy, who portrayed Captain Von Trapp, Karina Parker who was seen as Elsa, Busic who played Lisesl and Kramer, as Max, the role that led to his nomination for the best male performance award.
Eleven other boys were nominated to audition for the judges.
"I was shocked that I won," Kramer said. "I have been going to the M.A.C.Y. Awards since I was a freshman and I have seen the incredible people who performed and won."
His mother, Leonie, a professional musician who coaches at different schools in Orange County, said she was just overwhelmed when his name was announced.
"I just cried," she said.
She also gave her husband, Jay, a technology consultant and member of the Laguna Concert Band, a big hug and a kiss, which he remembers, but she doesn't. And her son, Issac, is still smarting from having his mother stomp on his foot with her high heels in her excitement.
Kramer's selection means he will miss his high school graduation, which caused a pang of regret.
"He was excited when he was nominated for the award and the trip, but then he looked at the calendar," his mother said. "He said we have to go to the commencement and film it for him."
High School Principal Joanne Culverhouse advised Kramer that if he didn't want to make the trip to New York, 249 of his classmates would be happy to take his place.
"E.J. has been performing forever and some of his best friends are the high school actors," said Leonie Kramer. "It meant so much to me that his friends were all there for him."
It meant even more to her son.
"It wouldn't have been as great if they weren't there," he said. "They are all so talented and I wouldn't have gotten the award without them."