The New Canaan High School musical company's spring production of The Mystery of Edwin Drood earned 15 nominations and seven wins, including the Outstanding Production of the Year Award, at the 2010 Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards last Monday night.

The cast took home more awards than any other school, beating its 2009 record of 12 nominations and three wins.

"We're the only school that sustained that high nomination rate," said director and drama program coordinator Deidre Alexander. "It's about the nominations for us, because the nomination says that your program is validated and when you're nominated across the board, you know you have a great program. The win is just the gravy."

Musical companies from 20 Connecticut high schools attended the awards show, which featured short performances on stage at the Bushnell Theater by the nominated casts, setting the tone for what Alexander described as a "Tony Awards-style" celebration. The awards were based on comments from adjudicators who attended showings and supplementary materials submit by the musical companies.

The evening marked the second annual Connecticut High School Musical Theater Awards, a state-wide chapter that is part of a larger national high school recognition program.

"This particular organization sits up in Norwich, so they're going to know the schools in that area that have programs that are doing really well ... . So now, we put Fairfield County on the map," Alexander said. "And there are still more schools out there; certainly Greenwich High School and Staples High School have excellent programs. It's only going to get harder, this competition, because it's really in its infancy. So we're going to relish in this because soon it will be back to that one trophy, we're pretty sure."

Based on an unfinished novel by Charles Dickens, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood" is Rupert Holmes' rendition of a classic whodunit that allows audience members to choose the ending.

A 104-member cast rehearsed six days each week, Monday through Saturday, for several months preceding the opening March performance. A typical week of rehearsals totaled 26 hours, according to cast member Gelani Alladin.

The work load sets the bar high. In a culture where the cast also builds the set, every company member was completely dedicated to the production, which made for a magnificent final product, Alexander said.

"I think it's a musical that's rarely done, so it was refreshing," she said of its success at the awards ceremony. "It's really a pseudo operetta, so you really need kids who can really sing it. It's a really triple-threat show: you've got to be able to act, sing and dance it."

Katie Oxman, a graduating senior with plans to keep stage performing a big part of her post-high school life, earned the Outstanding Performance by a Leading Female award for her role as the narrator and boss of a British theater company. The awards earn Oxman a chance to compete in New York in June for the national title as best female performance of the year.

"The best part about the whole night was being able to perform at the Bushnell Theater in front of a huge audience of people you don't know, which is exciting because it's not your friends and family anymore -- it's live, fresh bait," she said. "You get to work with a professional staff and have every accommodation offered in this amazing theater."

Michael DeMattia, a sophmore and the production's stage manager, described the evening as "magical." His dedication to his role as the director's right-hand man -- a 40-hour per week commitment -- earned him the Special Achievement award.

He said, "I was ecstatic all night long and I couldn't seem to get the smile off my face, even into bed."

The New Canaan High School musical company won the following awards: Outstanding Performance of the Year, Outstanding Performance by a Leading Female (Katie Oxman), Outstanding Performance by a Featured Ensemble Member (Brett Geraldi, James Throttle), Special Achievement (Michael DeMattia), Outstanding Direction by a Theater or Outside Artist (Deidre Alexander), Outstanding Costume Achievement (Deidre Alexander) and Outstanding Lobby Display.