Photo by Kyle Norby

A Maricopa group of teen dancers choreographed by a high school student won an Arizona High School Musical Theatre award.

A rousing portion of Maricopa High School’s February production of “Newsies” this year, the “Seize the Day” troupe won the Best Dance Ensemble award, announced Saturday in a virtual ceremony.

The show was choreographed by then-junior Taya Johnson, a member of both the drama and dance sections of the Performing Arts Department at MHS. She brought both worlds together to create a capering gang of New York newsboys.

“This is my first time choreographing a whole show, which has always been a dream of mine,” Johnson said during rehearsals, “because I’m taking my two favorite things – it’s dance and it’s acting together – so that’s really fun.”

“Newsies” leans heavily on energetic dancing. When director Alexandra Stahl gave Johnson the reins as her student choreographer, Taya went down the hall of the MHS Performing Arts Center to recruit her fellow dancers.

In the production, the dancers, led by senior Riley Bell, mostly played extras until the music started and then moved seamlessly through the actors to front and center. The actors, most with little dance experience, did not hide behind the dancers but learned and executed Johnson’s choreography for a unified performance.

The show itself was a top-five finalist out of 15 high school productions. Chandler High School’s “All Shook Up” to the trophy. Nine other schools were unable to stage their musicals before coronavirus closed schools for the year.

“Newsies” had finalists in six categories.

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