Jerry Awards for Whitewater High School Players production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid”

Although the applause and cheers for the Whitewater High School Players Nov. 21-24, 2019, production of “Disney’s The Little Mermaid” has long since subsided, applause arouse again with the announcement on Apr. 20 of WHS students receiving 2019-2020 Jerry Awards for their contributions to the staging of this Disney classic.

Cast and Crew – Photo by Tom Ganser

WHS seniors Lauren Harkness and Carter Waelchli were honored with a Jerry Award for their Lead Performance portrayals of Ariel, the mermaid, and Ursula, the villainous sea witch, respectively.

Also recognized with a Jerry Award for their stage management expertise were Josie Hintz, Hailey Long, and Emma VanDaele.

VanDaele was selected by the cast and crew of the production to receive the Spirit Award.

The Jerry Awards encourage, recognize, and honor excellence in Wisconsin high school musical theater.

The program began in the 2009-2010 school year as the Tommy Awards, and was renamed in 2017-2018 season to The Jerry Awards after philanthropist and arts supporter W. Jerome Frautschi.

Musicals of participating schools are reviewed by a panel of educators, theater experts, and industry professionals who provide valuable feedback and advice, and honor the achievement of schools and individuals with category-based awards. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 80 of the 130 participating schools statewide were able to complete their productions and compete for Jerry Awards. 

The much-anticipated culminating show of Madison Overture Center’s Jerry Awards 2019/20 program will go on as planned on Sunday, June 7 at 7 p.m. via Facebook Live. The 90-minute show, featuring video clips of musical theater performances (including performances by Harkness, VanDaele, and Waelchli), student and school awards, and special guests can be viewed at

Regarding Harkness’s performance, one reviewer wrote “Harkness is a phenomenal performer.  She is a dynamic and spunky Ariel.  Harkness sings with clarity, control, and a strong emotional connection to the music.  Harkness is also able to blend beautifully with the chorus and to belt out above the entire ensemble like she did at the finale.”

Lauren Harkness – photo by Tom Ganser

Harkness mused, “Over the past 4 years the WHS Drama Department and The Jerry Awards have given me countless opportunities that have shaped me into the person and performer that I am today. I wouldn’t be committing to go to school for music stage theatre if I didn’t learn and grow with these programs. The WHS theatre program has given me so much to be thankful for.  Jim McCulloch and Liz Elliott have taught me hard work and how to be a leader and I take those skills with me everywhere I go.”

One of the reviewers described Waelchli as “a force of nature as Ursula and the ultimate evil diva.  Kudos to Waelchli and the six ensemble members that were Ursula’s tentacles.  Waelchli’s bold and fierce acting choices were out of this world.  He thrived on the energy of the audience” and a second reviewer pointed out, “Carter’s voice was deep and gritty, adding to the feel of Ursula being an evil witch, even when Ursula is trying to seem innocent.”

Carter Waelchli – photo by Tom Ganser

“I’m really happy that I won a Jerry Award,” Waelchli shared.  “The theatre has always been a big passion of mine, and getting acknowledged for a performance feels really good. This award was a nice taste of normalcy given the COVID-9 pandemic, (and) it was nice to connect people again through congratulatory messages. I’m really appreciative of the WHS theatre program. I would not have gotten anywhere without the help of Mr. McCulloch or Ms. Elliott or anybody else who’s involved. I’m grateful that they’ve let me be a part of so many great shows.”

In considering the contribution of the stage managers, a reviewer wrote, “Josie Hintz, Emma Van Daele, Hailey Long did a nice job of managing this production.  Cues were clean, timely, and fluid.  They had numerous moving set pieces and a kaleidoscope of light cues.  There were no technical aspects that took me out of the theatrical moment.  This can be attributed to a well-organized and efficient stage management team.  They made stage management look ‘easy,’ with their care and conscientiousness.”

Josie Hintz – photo by Tom Ganser

I’m incredibly grateful for the Jerry Awards program, Hintz reported, “and the opportunities and recognition they give to high school theater programs like ours. Winning a Jerry Award is exciting, and it feels great to have all of my hard work and dedication recognized. Everyone works extremely hard to make these shows a success, so I’m also very grateful for how the Jerry Awards promote the WHS theater program and all of its participants.”

Additional nominations for Jerry Awards for the WHS Players’ production of “Disney’s Little Mermaid” included for Outstanding Lead Performance–Henry Bresser, Ella Willman, and Chris Porcaro; Outstanding Supporting Performance–Anderson Waelchli and Sophie Mayer; Outstanding Direction–Jim McCulloch; Outstanding Overall Design; Outstanding Set Design–Jim McCulloch and Kat Dunham; Outstanding Costume Design–Karen McCulloch and Deborah Blackwell; Outstanding Lighting Design–Jim McCulloch; and Outstanding Sound Design–Tony Hansen.

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