San Clemente CCA theater students earn top honors

by Nicole Berkman, Director, Student and Support Services, CCA

Last weekend was filled with excitement and success for College and Career Advantage (CCA) and the San Clemente High School Theater Program. The Spirit of the Macy awards, an esteemed regional organization affiliated with the Broadway League, recognized and rewarded outstanding achievements in shows from 36 high schools throughout the Orange County region. San Clemente High School’s production of “Phantom of the Opera”–produced and directed by CCA teacher Kirsti McCleary– was a front runner for many awards, due to the quality and magnitude of the production as well as the talent of the students participating.

When asked what made this year’s production different from those of years past, Ms. McCleary said, “Phantom of the Opera presented numerous challenges due to its scale and complexity. With a large cast, extensive technical requirements, and demanding music and material, it was undoubtedly a daunting project. We had high expectations to meet since the musical holds an iconic status on Broadway, beloved by many. I knew we had the talented students capable of pulling it off this year. The production involved 98 students who participated both on stage and behind the scenes. I am immensely proud of their exceptional work and grateful for the support of the SCHS theater family, our school, and the entire community. Witnessing everyone come together to back these students and our CCA program was truly awe-inspiring.”

The massive undertaking paid off for Ms. McCleary and her students, because San Clemente’s performance of Phantom Of The Opera emerged as the recipient of the coveted Spirit of the Macy Award. This accolade signifies the highest honor, equivalent to winning a state championship in sports. Furthermore, three SCHS students garnered individual recognition for their exceptional performances. Griffin Croft received the Best Dramatic Actor award, Daisy Kopenhefer was awarded Best Dramatic Actress, and Christian McCleary was honored the Best Actor award–a victory that allows him the opportunity to represent SCHS Theater in the upcoming national competition called The Jimmy Awards in New York City. The Best Actress awardee, Natalia Vassilian, is also a CCA Actor’s Repertory student at Tesoro High School and will be travelling to New York to compete at The Jimmys as well.

The Jimmy Awards, also known as the National High School Musical Awards, is a prestigious event where 98 high school theater students from across the country compete on a Broadway stage. Christian McCleary, and Natalia Vassilian will participate in this renowned competition scheduled to take place from June 18th to June 27th. The award show will be held on June 26th at the Minskoff Broadway Stage, where the Lion King is currently running. It will showcase the finest talents from various high schools nationwide. It is a unique opportunity for students to shine on a national level and gain recognition within the theater community.

As he prepares for the upcoming Jimmy Awards in New York City, Christian McCleary has proven that he is ready to compete on a national stage. The tremendous support of the San Clemente community, the guidance of CCA teacher (and mom) Kirsti McCleary, and the hard work of “The Phantom” cast and crew have all contributed to this incredible achievement. The future looks bright for Christian as he continues to pursue his passion for theater and showcase his abilities on a national level.

To watch the livestream of The Jimmy Awards on June 26th, go to and visit to learn more about CCA programs across the district.


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