Pine Belt Productions take top billing

By BETH BUNCH,

Two Hattiesburg artistic endeavors were co-winners in The American Prize, which celebrates American excellence in the arts.

James and the Giant Peach and The Phantom took top honors in the Musical Theater Performance, 2018-19.

James and the Giant Peach was the work of the Hub City players, Tammy Mansfield and Mike Lopinto, producer and director.

The Phantom of the Opera, presented by Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company with Lopinto as director and Jay Dean and Michael Miles as music director.

“This award is a result of the tireless efforts of incredible performers, technicians, and patrons who have dedicated themselves to excellence,” Lopinto said. “May it serve as only a starting point for even more exceptional moments in the theater.”

The Hub City players were formed in 2012 by Lopinto, Mansfield and Jennifer Hart Bruton for an original FestivalSouth production of LOL: A Showtune Cabaret, which led to other productions in subsequent years.

With founder member Mansfield, who also arranges the music and serves as music director for their cabarets, they created a formula that Hattiesburg loves and a cult-like following.

As the area’s only professional theatre company, The Hub City Players present fully-staged productions from adult-friendly Rock of Ages to family-friendly James and the Giant Peach.

Most recently they delighted audiences with a sold-out and held-over run of Steel Magnolia.

The Southern Opera and Musical Theatre Company’s production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera was a landmark in the history of the 60-year-old company housed at the University of Southern Mississippi. Directed by Lopinto and featuring a cast comprised of students, the event celebrated the 98th season of the USM Symphony Orchestra and its retiring music director, Dr. Jay Dean, in a musical and technical spectacle that played to the largest arts audience in the university’s history. In recent years, in cooperation with the symphony, the company has drawn regional acclaim for their fully-staged productions from Rigoletto and Turandot to Sweeney Todd and Mary Poppins.

The American Prize is a series of new, non-profit national competitions in the performing arts providing cash awards, professional adjudication and regional, national and international recognition for the best-recorded performances by ensembles and individuals each year in the United States at the professional, college/university, church, community and secondary school levels. Administered by Hat City Music Theater, Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Danbury, Connecticut, The American Prize was founded in 2009 and is awarded annually. The competitions of The American Prize are open to all U.S. citizens, whether living in this country or abroad, and to others currently living, working and/or studying in the United States of America, its protectorates and territories.

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