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Southern Miss Alumni Productions Win American Prize in Musical Theatre

Tue, 08/20/2019 - 11:11am | By: Mike Lopinto

The American Prize National Nonprofit Competitions in the Performing Arts recently announced, that in an unprecedented result, the Hub City Players production of James and the Giant Peach and the Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera have been named co-winners of the American Prize in Musical Theatre for 2018-19.

Both productions were directed by Dr. Mike Lopinto; with music direction by Dr. Michael Miles; choreography by Chris Word; costume design by Tammy Mansfield; and production design by Wes Hanson. Additionally, Dr. Jay Dean served as co-music director for Phantom of the Opera. All area University of Southern Mississippi (USM) faculty, staff, and/or alums.

David (Volosin) Katz, serves a founder and chief judge for the annual award.

“This is a triumph for the many dedicated and talented performers, technicians, and patrons who support excellence in the arts,” said Lopinto. “It is incredible that we can have both a Southern Miss educational program and a professional theater organization not just co-existing in the same community, but collaborating on productions of such high quality that they can both be recognized on a national level in the same year.”

The Hub City Players, formed in 2012, by Lopinto, Tammy Mansfield and Jennifer Bruton, have enjoyed success after success, many of which originated from an artistic partnership with FestivalSouth. Over the years, the group has created a formula that Hattiesburg loves.

With some of the area’s best singing actors, the project has become more than just singular events and is continually expanding to an annual season of performances in venues across the South.

Recent productions include the adult-friendly Rock of Ages; the family-friendly, and now, American Prize-winning, James and the Giant Peach; a sold-out and held-over run of Steel Magnolias that was named “Best of the Pine Belt” for 2019; and the much-lauded musical spectacular, Sister Act which opened FestivalSouth’s 10th anniversary season with a another sold-out run.

The Hub City Players have developed a devoted following who have come to expect exceptional performances, great production value, and a wonderful escape through theatre.

“Our goal for the Hub City Players has always been to produce the highest level of excellence while still maintaining a friendly learning environment,” said Mansfield. “Our motto, ‘drama-free-drama,’ has become a way of working and creating that we know our casts and crews have come to appreciate.”

The Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company (SOMTC) at Southern Miss has accrued a reputation as one of the finest opera and musical theatre collegiate companies in the region — attracting a range of diverse and dazzling performers and presenting professional quality productions within an educational setting. 

The program regularly offers students opportunities to perform in opera and musical theatre productions, as well as recitals and concerts. Recent, fully staged productions have included Sweeney Todd, West Side Story, Mary Poppins, Carmen, The Mikado, and Rigoletto.

These 2018-19 stage productions were by all accounts, “epic” and now, award-winning. The audience attendance for Phantom of the Opera, with its six consecutive sold-out performances, was the largest on record for any on-campus arts event in the history of Southern Miss. It featured a cast of more than 40 students and a staff of 25 faculty, staff, and volunteers.

Later that year, Puccini’s masterwork, Turandot, which was presented in a joint production with the Mississippi Opera, was the largest operatic production ever produced in the state of Mississippi.

“It is truly remarkable that a university and community of this size have the talent to produce such high quality productions” said Miles. “This national recognition is a testament to the hard work of our students, faculty and staff, and will only add to our ability to attract the most talented students into our program."