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You’ve seen ‘Amahl’: Creighton’s winter opera production earns national honors

Creighton University’s winter musical production, the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” has been tabbed for three national awards by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival.

The production, premiered by the Department of Fine and Performing Arts at Creighton in December, was selected for the Region V (Midwest) Kennedy Center Convention in Des Moines, Jan. 25. Following the competition, the Kennedy Center’s National Committee selected “Amahl” as a Distinguished Ensemble of a Play or Musical. Director M. Michele Phillips was selected as Distinguished Director of a Musical.

It’s the first time a Creighton production has been so honored by the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival, which has been sponsoring collegiate theater competition for more than 40 years.

The opera’s eponymous star, Creighton junior Natalie Hanson, was recognized with the award for Distinguished Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

“It is such an honor to have been recognized nationally for ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors,’” Hanson said. “It makes me proud of our department to say that we are competitive with collegiate theatre nationally. Playing the role of Amahl opened up so many doors for me as a performer and to be recognized nationally for my performance truly is beyond me.”

Hanson took on the role of Amahl — a 12-year-old boy who encounters the Biblical Magi as they trek to find the Christ child — with dual trepidation, being a woman and, like many in the production, a first-time opera performer.

But given the guidance of Phillips and Stephen Sheftz, director of Creighton’s BFA in Musical Theater program and the conductor of the 30-plus piece “Amahl” orchestra, Hanson and the rest of the Creighton cast adeptly picked up the larger tonality and the nuances of a new medium. “Amahl” was first performed as a live special on NBC television on Dec. 24, 1951.

Along with her individual honor, Hanson joins in the ensemble award with fellow actors Rachel Schmidt, Sam McKinney, Nik Whitcomb, Danny Carraher and Andreas Guevara, along with a chorus and orchestra comprising Creighton students and community volunteers, and six featured Creighton dancers.

The “Amahl” set design was by Bill Van Deest, technical direction was by Mark Krejci and lighting design was by Hunter Froelich and Clara Johnson. Costume design was by Lindsay Pape.

Hanson credited much of her recognition to the massive team mobilization in setting up the competition performance in a matter of hours at Des Moines’ Hoyt Sherman Place. She said negotiating those logistics were a testament to the cooperative spirit in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts.

“The production involved so many students, volunteers, and faculty and to be the face of such a triumphant effort from so many departments is an honor I will always remember,” she said. “I couldn't have done any of this without everyone else involved in the show.”

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